Monday, April 28, 2014

Is Progress Worth the Effort?

The more we know, the further behind we become.  Perhaps we should just go with what we know works.

From the NY Times:

Experimental Efforts to Harvest the Ocean's Power Face Cost Setbacks.

"a 260-ton buoy filled with technology that can turn the movement of the ocean into electricity to power 100 homes. . . .
Despite receiving at least $8.7 million in federal and state grants, Ocean Power told regulators that it could not raise enough money to cover higher-than-expected costs and would instead pursue a similar project in Australia, backed by a $62 million commitment from that country’s government.
 . . .
The Oregon Wave Energy Trust, a nonprofit, state-financed group, spent $430,000 in state lottery money helping Ocean Power navigate the process of seeking a permit.
. . .
Tidal power, which captures energy from currents moving in one direction at a time, as opposed to the wave-based technology of the Ocean Power buoys, is farther along, said Paul Jacobson, ocean energy leader at the Electric Power Research Institute. One reason, he said, is that tidal power is easier to engineer and has been able to adapt expertise from the conventional hydroelectric industry."

Even when a workable ocean-powered generator is made, it cannot be used due to cost restraints.  It's a real shame.  I'm not sure if the 520 pounds of machinery and electronics per house is worth it, but given that it cost almost a half-million dollars to "help" its developers through the process of getting a permit is telling.  This single prototype cost at least $87,000 dollars per prospective customer and did not get a chance to be deployed into service.  Now the Austailians, with abundance of water on all sides, are going to take the project.

Apparently the complicated approach of mining the movement of waves turned out to be more expensive than the more obvious mining of the regular tides, for which there is already old technology in place.  Perhaps this is a case in which computers and micro-management of resources is not the way to go.

I suspect, though, that a conventional turbine in the ocean would threaten far more of the wildlife than would an essentially closed system of sensors on a huge bouy.  That alone will probably doom the projects, though wind turbines (wind "mills") seem to be immune from such concerns when it comes to the danger to airborne wildlife.

Meanwhile, proven technology for cheap nuclear energy is on hold due to dangers far less deadly on the short term.  Even very "clean" energy from conventional hydro-electric turbines might meet opposition due to the threat to habitat of so-called "endangered" species.  Meanwhile, with carbon dioxide being redefined as a pollutant, even massive improvements in cleaning up the cheapest energy producing plants -- that is, the coal-fired plants -- come to naught.  It seems that the whole twentieth century has been lost on activists seeking to protect the earth from mankind.

I'm all for protecting the environment from destruction.  I am not adverse to new technology either.  But when advancement is persued for advancement's sake, trouble looms around every corner.  Unintended consequences can derail the best of intentions.

Perhaps we should just slow down a bit and enjoy what we already have.