Capturing the power of the sea


Normally mixing water and electricity wouldn't seem like a good idea, but new technology using the power of the ocean is making waves in the power industry.

"We're talking about locating generators that would be about nine miles off the shore," says Barbara Hale, from the San Francisco PUC.

San Francisco's Public Utilities Commission is looking in the bay and off California's coast to make electricity.

"It's measuring the wave motion so that we then can take that data and then calculate what the generation potential is by the movement of those waves," says Hale.

Specially designed buoys bob with the oceans waves, undulating with the water, or move snakelike up and down. The movement generates energy that can be captured and sent back to land.

"What's wonderful about waves is that it's a vast resource. There's lots of potential. What we're looking at is 'Is it going to work here in San Francisco?'" says Hale.

This isn't the first time San Francisco has looked at its surrounding waters for power. In 2006, the city proposed using the natural tidal action of the bay to spin windmill-like turbines to generate power under the Golden Gate.

In 2007, the city and Pacifica Gas & Electric penned an agreement with Golden Gate Energy to further study the potential for generating power. There are many ways a tidal power generator could work.

Offshore power generators, on the other hand, are already used in Europe and produce power for tens of thousands of homes and it may be coming to the North Coast soon. A video provided by PG&E shows the type of devices they may use off the coast of Fort Bragg and Eureka.

"It's important that we work with the local community environmental interests, the recreational interests, as well as the commerce interests, to assess what the potential impact is of the technology," says Roy Kuga, from PG&E.

A company animation shows an ocean power plant, if built, the two projects will generate enough power for 45,000 homes.

"Wave and tidal represent two of the more innovative technologies that hold immense promise," says Kuga.

Power generators are confident the ocean holds at least some of the answers to our energy woes.

"All of us as a society, as utility executives, are looking at ways to generate electricity that address our climate change concerns - and wave generation is absolutely one of those technologies," says Hale.

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This report was written and produced by Ken Miguel.

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