By John Daly| Tue, 08 May 2012 04:46 | 2
The first is the world’s commitment to “traditional” power sources, in which trillions of dollars have been invested – coal, hydrocarbons, and for the past five decades, nuclear.
This fixation leave many renewable energy projects starved for investment, though as oil prices continue to rise and technology improves, the picture is slowly changing.
The final and perhaps most significant hurdle however, is renewable energy’s inability to provide uninterrupted electricity 24/7 – the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun does not shine for 24 hours a day.
There is a source of renewable power that does not suffer from such shortages – the ocean, with its tides and currents, which are so reliable that they have been studied by admiralties for centuries, who publish alamanacs on their occurrence and predictability.
Now South Africa’s southeastern city of Durban, situated on the country’s KwaZulu-Natal coast, is considering an audacious project to tap the swift-flowing Indian Ocean northbound Agulhas Current to generate electricity
The city could certainly use the backup, as, with the southern hemisphere’s winter fast approaching, on 25 April Durban was affected by a number of power outages. eThekwini municipality Electricity unit deputy head Roy Wienand warned residents that more could follow, as more people would be using more electricity to stave off the cold, putting additional strains on the power grid.
Jupiter, Florida-based Hydro Alternative Energy Inc. is proposing to develop a $20 million, one megawatt demonstration unit that will generate power from the Agulhas Current, with the strong support of the Durban Investment Promotion Agency.
The prototype system, called Oceanus, would use floating generators equivalent of a five-story building in height, tethered to the seabed up to 330 feet below the surface so as not to interfere with shipping to generate electricity.
Hydro Alternative Energy Inc. chief executive officer Mark Antonucci said “Generating power from a sea current has never been done before. All previous wave generation technologies have been tidal based.” We have identified four sites offshore where the development unit could be placed, but we are here now to establish whether or not those sites are viable and what the protocols are, such as environmental impact law. We will put up the money for the units and the installation – about $20 million for the first one – and will then sell the electricity to the city and to power utility Eskom. That is how we make our money.”
Durban Investment Promotion Agency acting head Russell Curtis said that while environmental impact studies still needed to be completed, “If everyone is happy from the environmental point of view, Durban will be the first customer to get electricity from the project.”
The environmental impact assessment study will attempt to determine the projects possible impact on local sea life, which includes dolphins and migrating whales. Antonucci, however, was confident that the EIA study would vindicate the project, saying “The vanes (driving the turbine) move very, very slowly and the spaces between them are up to six and a half feet, which allows for fish which live in deeper waters to swim through. The units are placed too deep to affect shipping lanes and are at least 18 to 25 miles offshore. The development unit will also be placed at the edge of the Agulhas current rather than in the middle, which is tremendously powerful,” before adding that the Oceanus unit made no noise and would not create sound disturbance for animals such as whales and dolphins.
If the Durban facility is greenlighted, it would be the first such facility in the world and, if successful, could become a prototype for the installation of such systems worldwide.
If the EIA study determines that the Oceanus unit is indeed environmentally benign, then Hydro Alternative Energy Inc. seemingly will have solved one of the biggest problems retarding the growth of renewable energy – the lack of a reliable 24/7 natural phenomenon to use as a power source.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com