Re: Energy sources in the next 20 years

From: Al Koop <>
Date: Mon Jan 12 2004 - 12:47:37 EST

John W Burgeson wrote:

Glenn has presented evidence that oil & gas, while important, are not
going to be sufficient for the world's energy needs in a decade or two.

Other sources indicate that even if they were, environmental impacts --
global warming or whatever -- are such that alternative energy sources
are required anyway.


Coal (environmental problems)
Nuclear fission plants (radioactive wastes problems)
Nuclear fusion plants (uncertain technology + above)
Wind power (some help but not enough)
Solar cells (same as above, even at 80% efficiency)
Tidal power

The 12/03 issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, page 8, has some
info on this last one. Ten square miles of the Pacific Ocean is enough
supply all of California's needs on an indefinite basis. 10 gigawatts of
potential energy around the UK alone. Glenn has reminded us of the
costs to build such facilities, but in the long run they look as if they
produce an energy surplus (unlike fuel from corn products). Apparently
Spain has a facility in operation at this time.

BAS being a reputable journal, that gives me some hope. Comments?

Tidal power and wave power

There are two different types of power here (plus one could consider, in
addition, ocean thermal currents). Tidal power refers to special shaped
areas along the coastline where differences between high and low tides
are significant--the greatest low/high tide gradient being 16m in the
Bay of Fundy Canada. Heinburg says there are only about 20 such
potential sites for tidal power in the world. The other power type is
wave power, where the energy from the waves going up and down can be
used to generate power It sounds like the later is what this BAS report
is referring to.

France has a 240 Megawatt site that has been generating tidal power
since 1966 and Canada has a 20 MW plant on the Bay of Fundy. These are
special sites that cannot generate significant amounts of power on a
worldwide scale. Northwest Russia may have some additional sites that
could generate power. The disadvantages, besides limited sites, are
that these plants obviously produce power intermittently and they raise
environmental havoc on the estuarial ecology of the tidal areas.

Wave power obviously has lots of potential energy available, but I have
not found much enthusiasm for such power. Apparently, according to one
of my environmental science texts, there are not many favorable sites
for such power--one such site being the western coast of England. (I do
not exactly know what makes a site favorable, although I imagine it has
to do with the depth of the ocean and variability of the wave heights.)
In Japan, Denmark, Belgium, Britain, Norway and India there are a
variety of systems that do generate some power in this manner, but I
have not seen the enthusiasm like that implied in this BAS report.
There is the problem of intermittence again with calm seas as well as
the 60 foot waves. There is also difficulty in designing systems that
can withstand the corrosive powers of the salt and the fury of large

There is a book, Power from the Waves, Oxford University Press, 1995 by
David Ross that concludes that this is not likely to be a significant
source of energy in the near future.

One of the problems with reading reports in the energy area (as in many
areas today), is that there tends to be a black-white dichotomy. Either
the world is never going to run out of energy because of all the great
technology and there will only be minor bumps in the road, or else the
world is headed straight for anarchy and complete chaos and nothing can
save us. I try to find a realistic position. From this viewpoint I am
not convinced that ocean power is going to help much.

Right now, after reading extensively in the energy depletion area I am
most concerned about the eventual food supply as it relates to energy.
It seems that we are getting the great yields from our farms by
fertilizers that are derived from fossil fuels. For one perspective on
this read the following:

Eating Fossil Fuels by Dale Allen Pfeiffer

I suspect this article is on the pessimistic side, ( I hope so.) but I
think it makes some very valid points and presents real concerns as

I would like to hear what others think of this article.

Received on Mon Jan 12 12:48:54 2004

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