Exciting new wave, tidal and thermal energy projects are being subsidized, developed and implemented around the world. Using the ocean to generate electrical power is not a new idea since France, Scotland and the UK have wave energy projects. According to a Jan.13 BBC article, the UK plans to exploit tidal streams in Cornwall and Scotland or to build barrages across estuaries that exist in many places.
California, on the other hand, has 745 miles of coastline and not one working wave energy operation. The Golden State could take the lead in wave energy projects, but has a history of rejecting wave energy conversion alternatives. Two other alternatives, tidal power and thermal energy conversion, are not viable options at this time.
Tidal power is not a viable option in California since this method requires powerful tidal differences. Maine, Alaska and other parts of the northwestern U.S. have better opportunities.
California should be able to tap into vast areas of ocean wave power and there have been several initiatives. The California Energy Commission (CEC) has studied the matter and explains wave power technology this way,
"Some systems extract energy from surface waves. Others extract energy from pressure fluctuations below the water surface or from the full wave. Some systems are fixed in position and let waves pass by them, while others follow the waves and move with them. Some systems concentrate and focus waves, which increases their height and their potential for conversion to electrical energy."
California wave power came to a complete halt in 2009 when the state's most powerful energy company, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), backed out of all wave action projects. This included the Finavera project that would have been the nation's first wave energy project.
San Francisco plans to launch the newest wave energy venture and has requested a federal permit for a wave energy project. According to a Jan. 2 Electrical Mine blog, San Francisco based Oceanside Wave Energy Project will work in collaboration with Australian company, Bio Power Systems. This system would operate five miles off the coast.
Thermal energy conversion:
The final way to tap into ocean energy is to exploit the temperature differences between ocean surface water and deeper waters. The Pacific Ocean off the California coast has many viable areas, but thermal energy conversion is a very new and expensive technology. The CEC explains Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion this way,
"Thermal energy conversion exploits a difference of at least 38 degrees Fahrenheit between the warmer surface water and the colder deep ocean water. The cold ocean water can also be used for cooling, and desalinated water is often a by-product."
Hawaii has a thermal energy conversion system on the Big Island.
Think Global Green has a survey of wave energy projects around the world. Wave, tidal and thermal energy is being subsidized, developed and implemented in many places in the world. Nevertheless, California cannot get started on a single project.
Meanwhile, the state is heading toward a boom in fracking to extract oil from shale. Wind power will go through construction frenzy brought on by a short term tax credit extension will create a two year window for building and bringing wind power systems online.
In summary, it is very short sighted for California to create roadblocks to wave energy simply because the technology is expensive and new. Other nations have managed to develop wave energy systems and that same technology will cost a lot more in the future. Since California is one of the most fossil fuel dependent states in the world, any alternatives are worth investigating.