Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Buoy Parks Harvest Wave Energy

In this decade of energy conservation awareness, alternate forms of power generation are being invented and implemented at an ever-increasing rate. One of the proposed ideas for supplying large amounts of power to metropolitan areas is to use buoy parks to generate wave energy. These buoy parks, which are currently being considered for various offshore areas around the world, could supply enough energy to power thousands of homes each. Some estimates claim that wave power could meet the energy needs of the entire world using less than one percent of the available ocean resources. In fact, buoy parks would be a great energy alternative for areas that do not have access to an electrical grid.
A typical buoy park might hold around 200 large buoys, and cover roughly two square miles of the ocean surface. The average buoy would extend about 15 feet above the water, and each buoy could provide power to ten or twenty homes. An alternate type of buoy would be moored to the ocean floor, perhaps 30 to 40 feet below the surface or even deeper. Of all of the potential sites for buoy parks in the world, the western United States coastline seems to offer the most powerful waves with the least obstacles or restrictions to proposed buoy parks. Specifically, Oregon offers a desirable combination of powerful waves, accessible ocean floors, and a community that seems to embrace GREEN energy ideas.
Buoy parks are being developed in different ways around the world. Researchers at Oregon State University are working on a buoy that uses copper wire and magnets to produce electricity. The magnets would use the ocean current and waves to move through the coil, which would generate about 250 kilowatts of electricity per buoy. The developers say that the buoys would be contact-free, in other words, no parts would come in contact with other buoy parts. This should provide a sustainable, constant source of power without the corrosion that one might expect from a dynamic object that resides in the ocean.
At other locations, hydraulic buoys are being developed which will harness wave energy at less-than-optimal locations. For instance, the Florida Gulf Stream current flows at nearly ten billion gallons per second. But, the location is not quite hospitable to buoy parks due to its heavy traffic and inaccessible ocean floors. So any proposed buoy parks would have to be closer to land, where the ocean current is not quite as forceful. The use of the hydraulic buoys will help generate energy even at locations that do not produce great wave power compared to the Oregon coast.
If buoy parks could provide all of the needed energy for the Earth, then why are they not being used in full force yet? Well, the technology is just in the first stages of development. In fact, a recent setback occurred when a $2 million test buoy sank to the ocean floor just off the Oregon coast. The buoy parks also pose a potential hazard to commercial ocean traffic and fishing vessels. In fact, some are worried that the entire fishing industry at some locations would suffer greatly because the buoy parks would use the same waters as those most desired by fishermen. The environmental effects of placing so many buoys in a small area cannot be accurately determined at this point in time without further study.
Despite the drawbacks, buoy parks are getting much support as energy costs continue to rise. While still more expensive, then say, coal, the primary source of wave energy (the ocean current) is absolutely free. So, the entire monetary cost lies in the research and development, and in the materials used. Private firms worldwide are joining with the educational institutions and government agencies, as they see a great opportunity to not only make money, but also to establish a reputation for being GREEN.