Energy Department releases map showing tidal power potential on US coasts

Either the United States Department of Energy likes Carbonocracy, or we’ve just got some good timing.  Shortly before we linked to this story in Bloomberg on the approval of the first United States commercial tidal power permit, the DOE released two reports that paint an encouraging picture of the long-term viability of tidal energy and its ocean-going companion, wave power.  The Energy Department press release announcing the reports boasts that they “represent the most rigorous analysis undertaken to date to accurately define the magnitude and location of America’s ocean energy resources,” and given the overall dearth of mainstream information out there on ocean energy sources, they’re probably right.

In total, the reports estimate that when combined with hydropower and other water-based resources, tidal and wave could help to account for up to 15 percent of the US electricity supply by 2030.  As we’ve been saying all along, while that won’t necessarily keep the lights on all by itself, when combined with growing solar and wind sectors, tidal and wave have the potential to add to a strong and expanding renewable energy portfolio.  Of course, much of this depends on the ability of these early-stage technologies to attract enough private capital to get off the ground, which largely depends (at least in the initial stages) on continued federal support, which is not necessarily a guarantee.

Still, the DOE report is another indication of the United States’ vast potential to develop clean, home-grown energy (and attract that jobs that would come along with that development).  15 percent by 2030 sounds a long way off, but the decisions we make today will have a big impact on whether those figures constitute pure fantasy or legitimate reality tomorrow.

Read the Energy Department press release and find PDF links to the wave and tidal reports here.

DOE Reports Major Potential for US Wave and Tidal Energy Production (US Department of Energy)

Climate change, explained.

By Libby Murphy

Variability is a natural part of Earth’s intricate climate system. The planet has endured periods of warmth and glaciation alike in its some 4.5 billion year history. Shifts in climate can be traced back to a variety of natural events and trends, Earth’s rotation, solar irradiance, volcanic activity and more. Currently we are in a period of warming, the rapidity of which is unprecedented, unlike anything we have witnessed or have evidence of in the past. This global warming trend is abundantly clear, measurable and rarely disputed. What is debated, however, are the cause and affect of this warming. There is a strong consensus among the scientific community that this rapid warming is human induced. More specifically, that it is a result of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. To many people, however, this conclusion is not as evident or logical. The argument to support global warming ranges from a couple of fundamental concepts, the greenhouse effect and the carbon cycle, to key evidence connecting human activity to warming temperatures. An understanding of these issues is necessary to wrap one’s mind around the current global warming scenario. This paper intends to present these arguments in a manner more approachable to a non-specialist and will conclude with a framework for which to look toward the future and make key decisions regarding this issue, if you so desire.

Many fuels, including oil, wood, biomass, coal are made up almost entirely of carbon. When we burn these fuels, carbon reacts with oxygen to create carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide is in gas form so it rises and settles in the atmosphere. The physical tendency of atmospheric carbon dioxide is to absorb and reradiate energy, effectively creating an insolating blanket around the planet. This in turn leads to warming on the Earth’s surface known as the greenhouse effect. This is the cause of global warming and can be measured in the steady rise of global mean temperature. Other greenhouse gases include methane, CFCs, water vapor and more. Currently, there is a large amount of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere as a result of human industrial activity, most significantly carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion.

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The US’s first commercial tidal permit has been granted

A historic moment for tidal power in the US. Thank you, FERC, for issuing the first commercial license to a tidal power project. The lucky permit holder is Verdant Power. However, it is not really a question of luck but rather hard work. The company has been building its turbine design and East River project site for years. They first installed turbines at this site in 2002, 10 years ago. The turbines got mangled by the fierce tides so the company has been improving its design since then. The 1 Megawatt project is expected to sell enough energy to Con Edison to power almost 1,000 nearby homes. The first 5 turbines are expected to enter the water in late 2013. The renewable energy world will eagerly await the environmental results of this system, which I’m sure will influence the policy and regulation issues faced by future tidal companies.

Energy Turbines May Be Spinning in New York’s East River by 2013 (Bloomberg)