Richard Seymour, head of Ocean Engineering Research Group, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego
One of the priorities outlined in the West Coast Governors' Ocean Action Plan is the exploration of the coastal waters as a source of sustainable alternative energy, including wave power.
Ocean engineer Richard Seymour has been wave watching since 1975 when he started the Coastal Data Information Program. This network of wave measurement stations is now deployed in more than 100 locations along North and South American coastlines. With California's goal of obtaining 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2010, ocean waves have the potential of developing into a new source of alternative power.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has signed a power purchasing agreement with Finavera Renewables, which is building a wave farm off the Northern California coast near Humboldt County. But the high cost of producing wave energy is a drawback to widespread development, says Seymour.
"It's one of those things where we might say 'it costs us more but it cuts our carbon footprint and reduces reliance on Saudi Arabia and that's the price we pay,'" says Seymour. Yet high cost isn't the only issue.
In a system such as the PG&E project, he says the wave energy capture devices need to be fairly close together, so fishing vessels can't drag or trawl through the area. One solution might be to put wave farms inside marine reserves where fishing is already banned.
However, Seymour believes there is a more immediate use of ocean resources to reduce California's energy-use footprint.
"For ocean energy, the most direct, ready-to-apply-right-now and the most effective method is for energy-use avoidance," he says.
Seymour sees great potential to tap deep seawater for air-conditioning. Conventional air-conditioning systems circulate cold water that has been chilled with electricity-powered refrigeration units. In a seawater system, cold water, pumped from more than 1,000 feet below the ocean's surface, is used to chill the circulating cold water. The seawater is then pumped back into the ocean when it has warmed and more cold water is pumped in. Seymour estimates that the seawater cooling method would use one-tenth of the electricity that mechanical air-conditioning systems use.
A company in Hawaii is currently developing a seawater air-conditioning system for downtown Honolulu. Such a system would also work well in Southern California coastal communities, Seymour says.
Robert Warner, chair, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, UC Santa Barbara
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Jeffrey Graham, marine biologist, Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego
Mary Wilcox Silver, professor, Ocean Sciences Department, UC Santa Cruz; adjunct scientist, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute