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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ocean power

My daughter recently showed me a picture of a soccer ball which stores energy. Evidently after a game or two it can store up enough energy to power up a cell phone.

If they can harness the power stored in a soccer ball, why can't they somehow harness the power of the oceans? Waves and currents generate a tremendous amount of force -- far more than a bunch of kids kicking a soccer ball around -- but you always read that there are problems associated with it.

One easier solution would be to harness the power of waterfalls. People have been doing that ever since textile mills situated themselves next to waterfalls in the eighteenth century. People might find the idea of a Niagara Falls festooned with little hydroelectric contraptions less than ideal aesthetically, but they would generate a tremendous amount of power. And hydroelectric dams are certainly less unsightly than wind turbines. Perhaps we could exempt a few of the more scenic waterfalls, but harnessing a lot of the smaller ones would certainly be cleaner than burning coal. Gravity is powerful, and it's free as well as clean.

If we can't harness the power of the ocean because of its shifting currents, we should do more to take advantage of rivers, which flow only one way. Why not place a few turbines along the banks of large rivers? One would think the mighty Mississippi could light up most of Illinois. If permanent structures seem too much of a blight, then floating barges which could be anchored could be constructed so as to have water wheels on the bottom which could convert the power of the current into electric energy. And these floating barges could be turned around so as to take advantage of shifting tides at, say, the Mississippi Delta. Plus a floating barge would solve the problem of transporting the energy. They could be situated close to power stations and thus require minimal transport; and they could be moved among different power stations as required.

Floating barges would seem a good solution to the problem of harnessing the ocean's currents. A floating barge would be able to be anchored to the bottom of the ocean (in relatively shallow water) and could turn in any direction as necessary in order to adapt to the shifting currents and tides.

Calling all scientists and engineers.

Chances are I don't know what I'm talking about here. But it seems worth a try.


Anonymous said...

I don't think the problem is the availability of alternative sources, which as you note abound. The problem is cost and reliability. Right now good old fossil fuels still offer a big advantage of being there when needed at a competitive cost.

John Craig said...

Guy -- If hydroelectric power works -- and it has in the past -- I would think there'd be a way of making it work now, even in the ocean. We also need to use nuclear more in this country, we're way too paranoid about it.