Patt Morrison for January 13, 2011

Dude, the surf’s electrifying: could wave energy soon power California?

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David McNew/Getty Images

Boats sail past big waves at The Wedge as a winter storm with 50-knot winds in the Southern Hemisphere off Tahiti generates high surf at south-facing southern California beaches on July 24, 2009 in Newport Beach, California.

It started with tidal power, the idea of slapping several huge generators on the floor of the San Francisco Bay that would capture the massive energy of the tides as they flowed into and out of the bay. When that grand scheme became too expensive and too inefficient to prove sustainable, a much simpler idea was considered: what about wave power? The freshly inaugurated Lieutenant Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, will make green energy the focus of his term and one specific idea that is already in practice in San Francisco is wave power. Instead of building equipment on the sea floor, wave power uses a system of buoys and power cables that employs the constant wave motion of the ocean to drive a set of pistons. The result could be power that is more affordable to produce than solar energy and from a reliable source. There’s a ton of work to be done but several European countries already have wave power farms in operation—could California be next?

Guests:

Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California

Daniel Kammen, Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency at the World Bank; on leave as Director of the UC Berkeley Renewable & Appropriate Energy Laboratory


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