Sunday, March 29, 2009

Renewables in Outer Continental Shelf

Renewable energy production is a hot topic, with land-based solar installations, windfarms, bio-mass systems, and geothermal systems receiving attention and investment capital.   All of the above renewables have something to recommend them, primarily the fact that the energy source is free.  The drawbacks are numerous, including that they are intermittent and therefore unreliable, they are inadequate even when fully exploited (geothermal, bio-mass), too costly for the amount of energy produced, and too dispersed (wind, solar). 

Yet, according to the U.S. Department of Interior, Mineral Mining Service, in their January 2009 Draft Proposed Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program 2010 – 2015, there is plenty of power in the waves and wind offshore.    MMS is offering leases in the Outer Continental Shelf for renewable energy systems, primarily wave and wind, but also ocean current systems off the southeast tip of Florida.   The MMS stated:

“Wind Energy Resources: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that more than 900,000 megawatts (GW), close to the total current installed U.S. electrical capacity, of potential wind energy exists off the coasts of the United States, often near major population centers, where energy costs are high and land-based wind development opportunities are limited. Slightly more than half of the country’s identified offshore wind potential is located off the New England and Mid-Atlantic Coasts, where water depths generally deepen gradually with distance from the shore. Development of offshore wind energy technologies has the potential to provide up to 70,000 MW of domestic generating capacity to the nation’s electric grid by 2025.

Wave Energy Resources: The total annual average wave energy off the U.S. coastlines, calculated at a water depth of 60 meters, has been estimated at 2,100 Terawatt-hours (TWh). Capturing the energy of ocean waves in offshore locations has been demonstrated as technically feasible, and basic research to develop improved designs of wave energy conversion devices is being conducted in regions such as near the Oregon coast, which is a high wave energy resource. Compared with other forms of offshore renewable energy, such as solar photovoltaic (PV), wind, or ocean current, wave energy is continuous but highly variable, although wave levels at a given location can be confidently predicted several days in advance.”   -- MMS Draft Proposed Program, January 20, 2009, pg. 13.

The highly variable aspect of offshore wind and wave power production can and will be mitigated by appropriate storage, possibly advanced batteries or capacitors, pumped storage hydroelectric, compressed air energy storage, or advanced flywheel storage systems.   Energy storage allows excess energy produced to be stored until such time as the power load increases.  Typically, the power load is low at night, and increases during the day due to people being awake and going about their work.  However, wave and wind resources do not follow the day/night power load curve, hence the need for energy storage until needed.  Plus, as any sailor can attest, wind often dies out for hours, even days at a time. 

The 2,100 TWh for wave power quoted above is approximately 7 times the total electrical power consumed in California in 2007,  or roughly 70 percent of all the electrical power consumed in the U.S. for the year.   Offshore wind power can easily make up the other 30 percent. 

Installing renewables in the OCS will profoundly change the American economy, and the world.  One such change is that nuclear power plants can be forever shut down in the U.S., and their toxic wastes disposed of once and for all time.  Another is that imported oil can be reduced to zero, as the vehicle fleet is converted to electric power plus petroleum-electric plug-in hybrids.   Yet another is that imported LNG can be reduced to zero, for the same reasons as oil.  When the U.S. no longer imports oil from the Middle East, major foreign policy issues will be re-examined.  A huge source of revenue to the Middle East will be gone forever.   The balance of trade will be affected, as the huge sums currently spent on importing hydrocarbons will be available for domestic use. 

The electric power from domestic waters in the OCS has great potential, and the MMS is correct in offering leases in these waters.   

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 

Mr. Sowell may be reached at his legal website.

1 comment:

Kit P said...

Another California fantasy. Not going to happen Roger

The first reason is the legal industry. The intervenor industry ties everything up in court. Renewable energy is not exempt from NEPA or OSHA.

The second reason is ocean based electricity generation is not practical.

At this time, 1.8 billion of the world's population do not have access to electricity. Roger wants to focus on the impractical. Sorry Roger, the industry is too busy to bother with California.

The third reason is that the practical ways of make electricity have a near perfect safety record and insignificant environmental impact when following US regulations.