Sunday, March 28, 2004

Sea change for tidal power: New underwater turbines could be cheap and eco-friendly.

Two recent articles on generating electricity from tidal power show that this industry may be ready for a significant take off. From Britain:

A British company has invented a simple tidal power system that is relatively easy to install and has little impact on its environment. The device could soon be added to our range of renewable energy resources, and be used to bring power to remote seaside locations.

The TidEl system uses floating turbines that are anchored to the seabed by chains. The underwater windmills drift back and forth with the tide, so they point in the best direction to get power from the spinning blades.

And in Florida, the company Florida Hydro has developed a strategy for harnessing the ocean currents of the Gulf Stream.

"For over thirty years, scientists and engineers have sought ways to capture the power of the Gulf Stream current to generate electricity," the company said. "However, all previous attempts have proven cost-prohibitive due to problems with technological scalability and the large capital costs associated with deploying an offshore underwater power plant. ...

If all the testing goes as planned Florida Hydro has big plans for their ocean energy device.

"Energy production by this site will prove the viability of the Open-Center Turbine technology and provide the basis for the construction of a 532-turbine-unit offshore hydroelectric plant fueled by the power of the Gulf Stream current," said the company.

These developments are coming none to soon. Recently Saudi oil experts have privately cast doubt about their ability to significantly increase Saudi output--something that all optimistic predictions of oil production's future count on.

Half of Saudi's production comes from the largest oil field in the world--Ghawar. But a former vice president for exploration and production at Saudi Aramco says that Ghawar was pushed too hard in the past and is now declining at a rate of around 8% per year.

The International Energy Agency forecasts that Saudi production will need to reach 20 million barrels a day by 2020 to meet world demand, double present capacity. Unfortunately Saudi oil officials are now predicting that production in 2020 will be about the same as today.

This is the context in which these fledgling green energy companies are developing.


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