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Regulators Approve First Commercial Hydrokinetic Projects in U.S.

Energy
Regulators Approve First Commercial Hydrokinetic Projects in U.S.

U.S. Energy Information Administration

Sources: Reproduced with permission from Ocean Power Technologies (left) and Kris Unger/Verdant Power, Inc. (right)

New hydrokinetic energy technologies that generate electricity by harnessing the energy from ocean waves, tides and river currents are advancing toward commercial development in the U.S. They are not expected to add major power supplies anytime soon, but federal regulators this year approved licenses for two hydrokinetic energy projects to produce electricity from wave power buoys anchored off the Oregon coast and from underwater turbines driven by the current in New York City's East River.

Hydrokinetic energy is still in its infancy in the U.S. Current prices make hydrokinetic energy expensive compared to other fuels for power generation. However, backers of the technology claim river currents and ocean tides are more predictable, sometimes known months in advance, for generating electricity compared to intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar. Various hydrokinetic technologies are available, including:

  • Wave power buoys capture the energy in the up-and-down movement of waves generating power that is transmitted by an underwater cable to the electric grid onshore. There are several types of buoys under development.
  • Underwater turbines use water currents to spin underwater blades and generate electricity. Unlike conventional hydroelectric turbines that rely on dams or diversions to direct water flow, these technologies rely on the unconstrained currents found in rivers, tidal areas or the open ocean.
  • Tidal power harnesses water flowing between low and high tides, turning a turbine to generate power. There are only 40 sites known in the world that have the required difference in water levels between tides needed to produce electricity.

Verdant Power's Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy Project, approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in January 2012, plans to install up to 30 three-blade hydrokinetic generators on the bottom of New York City's East River to produce about 1 megawatt of electricity, enough to power around 800 homes. After initial problems resulting from strong river currents, the company has successfully tested new blades made of plastic and fiberglass.

Ocean Power Technologies' Reedsport Wave Park power station, approved by FERC in August, will consist of up to ten large buoys that collectively could generate 1.5 megawatts (MW) of electricity from the movement of waves. The power wave station will be located 2.5 miles off the Oregon coast and will be connected to the electric grid by an underwater cable. Construction of the initial buoy is nearing completion and is expected to be ready for deployment later this year.

While U.S. hydrokinetic projects are small—dwarfed by the 77,000 MW of existing conventional hydroelectric generating capacity—the sector is developing. So far, FERC has issued 93 preliminary hydrokinetic energy project permits. In July 2012, FERC and the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management updated their agreement to streamline the process for licensing and regulating wave and ocean current energy projects.

Other countries have tapped hydrokinetic energy for years, although some of the technology used is not as advanced as what is being tried in the U.S. The 240 MW La Rance barrage dam in France was the world's first tidal power station. Opened in 1966, the plant has 24 turbines that generate electricity when the tide goes in or out. The Sihwa Lake Power Station in South Korea began operating last year and is the world's largest tidal power station, with a generating capacity of 254 MW. There is also the Annapolis power plant at the Bay of Fundy in Canada that was built in 1984 and generates 20 MW of electricity from the Bay's record 43-foot tides.

Source: Reproduced with permission from Pelamis Wave Power.

More advanced technology used internationally includes the Pelamis "sea snake," an offshore machine consisting of five tube sections that float on the ocean surface and use the motion of waves to generate electricity (see images above). When the tube sections flex, hydraulic arms move in opposite directions and turn a generator that produces power. Sea snakes are being tested in Scotland and Portugal.

The U.S. Department of Energy has a database that tracks hydrokinetic energy projects in various stages of development around the world.

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

 

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An illustration depicts the extinct woolly rhino. Heinrich Harder / Wikimedia Commons

The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.

The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.

"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."

The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.

The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.

The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.

To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.

Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.

"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.

"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."

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Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.

For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.

"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."

To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.

"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."

So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.

Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.

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If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.

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