Ocean Power Finally Comes Online: In a first for the United States, power from the ocean was harnessed and fed into the electrical grid late last week. The source wasn’t a towering offshore wind turbine like those that have generated so much controversy off Cape Cod, but an underwater device submerged in a bay in Maine.The lone generator, dubbed TidGen, lies in Cobscook Bay off the town of Eastport, where its lawnmower-shaped blades churn as 20-foot tides rise and fall twice a day. The machine is capable of producing about 180 kilowatts, enough to power about 25 to 30 homes.The development is a ray of hope for the U.S. ocean-energy industry, which until now hasn’t delivered a single watt of electricity to the power grid despite years of effort… “This historic moment elevates the U.S. to the world stage,” said Chris Sauer, the CEO of Ocean Renewable Power Company, which launched the Maine tidal device. “We are now ready to bring our tidal energy power systems and expertise to the international market.”
(Forbes, Green Tech by David Ferris, 9/17/12)
Solar Thermal Technology Seen Bolstering Renewable Energy Adoption:
The quest to develop an improved renewable energy storage system is intensifying, as researchers continue to make progress in their drive to spur the adoption of green technology.
One of the biggest hurdles facing the widespread adoption of solar panel and wind turbine systems is that they are still reliant on the whims of nature. Solar panel arrays are capable of generating a substantial amount of electricity when the sun is shining, but energy storage technology has not progressed as rapidly, confounding experts.
However, engineers are growing increasingly optimistic that solar thermal power could overcome the energy storage obstacles currently facing clean technology companies. The New York Times reports that researchers are betting the energy generation scheme, which harnesses the sun's heat to boil water and create electricity, can circumvent storage issues and potentially drive clean adoption throughout the U.S.
Scientists contend that the water used in solar thermal systems can be used to heat salt, which would effectively store energy for later usage. Such a system is optimal, according to experts, because it would supply energy to homes and businesses during the nighttime hours when the sun is no longer helping to drive energy generation.
More specifically, researchers and industry experts are hoping that solar thermal power plants could help meet electricity demand during peak demand hours, designated between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Renewable energy company SolarReserve is currently constructing such a power plant in the Nevada desert, and executives from the firm asserted it should be operational by next year.
Moreover, BrightSource, a company that is backed by more than $165 million in financing from California-based technology giant Google, plans to build three separate solar thermal plants in the Golden State. While BrightSource's facilities would begin generating energy in 2016 and 2017, they are projected to have a massive electricity generation capacity.
In total, the two firms' four solar thermal plants would be able to power tens of thousand of households on a typical summer evening – a feat today's solar panel systems are not capable of accomplishing.
Admittedly, there are hurdles solar thermal technology companies must overcome, but high-profile companies besides Google, including Chevron and Good Energies, are investing in it. Engineers assert that solar thermal plants could play a crucial role in energy production by the end of the decade, and while they will not replace conventional solar panel systems, they will complement them by generating electricity at night.
It is often difficult to connect renewable energy systems to the U.S. electric grid, experts say, with the nation's power supply network plagued by power outages and other grid disruptions. Balancing the supply and demand of energy has become increasingly important and complex, and solar thermal plants could help augment electricity production during times of elevated consumption levels. This would help power providers ensure demand is met, and as a result, would reduce the frequency of power outages.
The San Jose Mercury News reports that state legislation in California is also helping drive the creation solar thermal technology plants. California signed into law regulations mandating power providers derive more than 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. With time quickly dwindling, utilities are working feverishly to comply with the stringent laws, variations of which other states have passed.
Clean energy advocates such as SolarReserve chief executive Kevin Smith are bullish on solar thermal technology.
"As we move forward, we'll get more and more traction with the fact we can provide more capacity," he said.