In our ever-growing need to investigate renewable energy, we have become more comfortable with what methods work best under given circumstances. Hydropower, being one of the oldest forms of renewable energy, has certainly helped direct the world towards a more productive form of alternative energy. However, dealing with the ocean is a whole new issue. Due to its vast size, the sea’s behavior is inherently extreme, to say the least. Using the ocean to generate electricity will be an immensely difficult task.
The Scottish Government, in attempts to remain the forerunner in marine technology, has established a challenge to spark the execution of ocean power systems. In 2008, the Saltire Prize was first announced to award $16 million to the first company to demonstrate the most feasible form of generating electricity utilizing the ocean. Four companies from the United Kingdom have stepped up with ideas, two of which are attempting to harness power from ocean tides, while the other two will focus on power from the waves.
Recently, the prize has entered a phase called The Grand Challenge. This stage in the competition is when each of the competitors finally set their system into the water for testing. These systems were set far off the coasts of Scotland. Their locations are very important in regards to the amount of power they can capture. Long cables stretch from land out to the systems and back to land to power the national grid. Series of monitors within these systems assess ocean conditions and the amount of power actually being generated.
All four companies will need to ensure their system is maintainable and environmentally friendly. Furthermore, each of their systems must produce at least 100 gigawatt-hours continuously for two-years in order to be eligible win. To put this perspective for those of you not familiar with gigawatt-hour units (like me), Scotland’s current energy consumption is about 40,000 gigawatt-hours per year. Though the competition’s threshold seems to be merely a fraction of the country’s total energy needs, it would nevertheless be a breakthrough for not only the Scots, but for marine energy as a whole.
Scotland is not the only country striving to harness the ocean’s energy. Many countries (e.g. China, Canada and the US) are also researching different methods. In the end, however, it all comes down to financing the projects and that’s where Scotland has a leg up. The Scottish government has been putting a lot of pressure on obtaining renewable energy. Today, 30 percent of Scotland’s power comes from the renewable energy generated within its own borders. In the excitement of this ocean power challenge, Scotland plans to be generating 100 percent of its own power from renewable energy sources by the year 2020.
If you want to better visualize these ideas, check out the project video courtesy of National Geographic:
By: Carali Van Otteren
(Photo by Daniel D’Auria under a Creative Commons license)