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Ocean power making waves in Australia’s clean energy future

CSIRO recently announced that energy from the ocean could supply 11% of Australia’s demand by 2050. That is enough to power a city the size of Melbourne. It is a bold claim, but it’s time for Australia…

Could waves and ocean currents hold a key to a renewable energy future? Sunova Surfboards

CSIRO recently announced that energy from the ocean could supply 11% of Australia’s demand by 2050. That is enough to power a city the size of Melbourne.

It is a bold claim, but it’s time for Australia to look at the sea differently.

The World Energy Council recognised the potential several years ago when it listed Australia’s southern coastline as one of the world’s best sources of wave energy.

Predictability and power are what make the ocean competitive with wind as a power source. It also makes it the new frontier for renewable energy exploration.

The federal government has set a target of 20% renewable electricity generation by 2020. CSIRO modelling shows the potential for ocean energy to make up a significant part of this figure.

Our investigation used engineers, oceanographers and economists to review what devices are being developed, trialled and commercialised around the world. We consulted with Australian companies already working in this area of exploration, and examined potential environmental and social impacts.

What types of ocean energy are there?

Tidal energy is where the sun and moon pulls at the ocean and fills bays and estuaries every day. Placing tidal turbines individually or in a row would take advantage of these vast water movements. Likely sites include northern and western regions and the Banks Strait off the east coast of Tasmania.

Ocean thermal energy uses the temperature difference between the surface and deep ocean. This disparity can be used to condense and vaporise a working fluid to drive a turbine. A prime location would be off the Queensland coast which has a differential of about 10 degrees between surface and abyss.

There are deep water currents in the ocean which might be captured using enormous turbines anchored to the sea floor. Such currents exist off the east coast.

There are also thousands of kilometres of coastline in Australia where waves dump the concentrated energy of the ocean.

And it is this – wave energy – which holds the greatest potential for Australia.

Catching the wave

Australia has an advantage as an island that borders the Southern Ocean. This plays home to the largest global source of surface waves which are constantly being generated night and day, summer and winter, under its powerful storm systems.

To supply 20% of Australia’s total electricity demands by 2050 it would be necessary for wave energy power stations to produce 46TWh. Depending on the technology, this could take as little as 150km of coastline – or more if wave energy extraction was reduced to avoid any changes to undersea sand and rock movement.

Our study selected seven possible areas, each stretching 50km along the southern coast.

The CSIRO identified Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania as having the best wave resources. These also happen to be near our largest energy markets. However in these areas there are differing demographics and existing energy resources which may affect take-up of wave energy.

Finding the right state for ocean power

Tasmania’s west coast alone is nearly 300km of constant waves which produce more than 12 times the state’s current consumption of energy each year. But its population size and the existence of hydroelectric sources mean that it’s not likely to need wave energy. That is unless it’s as an industry that can be linked via Bass Link, the high voltage DC line to the mainland.

Victoria, though it lacks the powerful wave resource of Tasmania’s west coast, is predicted by CSIRO modelling to have the greatest amount of wave energy. Victoria has high energy demands and needs to replace its brown-coal fuelled electricity supply with low-emission energy sources by 2050.

Consideration of environmental impact will be important in calculating the spread and mix of wave farms. Little research has been done to look at the effects both negative and positive on the ocean environment.

The size, number and distribution of large-scale wave farms would depend on the availability of the coastline. It would be in competition with protections in place for a variety of reasons. Marine protected areas, native title and land rights, shipping, tourism, recreation and real estate, aquaculture and fisheries, mineral exploration and mining, and defence and security would all come into consideration.

Wave farms on remote coastlines could supply power and promote mineral exploration in as yet un-mined regions. Farms could help calm waters near off-shore oil rigs, they might also promote fish breeding or protect coastline from erosion.

Predictable and reliable

What makes wave energy particularly worth investigation is that it’s much less intermittent than wind, and is more predictable. Waves arriving on our coasts were generated hundreds of kilometres away and days ago, by storms that we can track.

To maximise that advantage, it will be important to assess the cost of transmitting the energy on-shore. It’s also critical to reduce the cost of ongoing maintenance of equipment that must operate in tough ocean conditions, in the face of corrosion and bio-fouling.

The economics of energy extraction, storage and transmission will decide the take up of ocean energy, assuming environmental and social impacts are acceptable.

Photovoltaic solar arrays and wind turbines have permanently changed our landscape and the way we see the sun and the wind. Wave energy will change the way we look at the sea.

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47 Comments sorted by

  1. Peter Ormonde
    Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Farmer

    Excellent.

    Wave power is an enormous potential resource in southern Australia - and they just keep on coming. And there's more that can be done with them than just have some fun surfing.

    I recall reading the results of an integrated platform off the coast of California where wind turbines were placed on a platform which itself generated power from waves. The output was a lovely straight constant line (about a 10% SD) unlike turbines alone which go up and down like a bride's nightie (40%SD…

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  2. Alex Cannara

    logged in via LinkedIn

    NYC has had tidal generators in the East River for years. But, the reality is again, efficiency and environmental deficits -- the inconvenient realities often discounted, even by 'greens'. Staring with about the worst...

    a) Ocean thermal -- naturally small temperature differences (<40C) mean exceedingly low thermodynamic efficiencies and so great waste with low power density. Then there's the issue of species effects, even if the vast plumbing system doesn't interfere or kill sea life.

    b…

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    1. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Alex Cannara

      Now Alex...

      The Hudson River???? To quote the great Crocodile Dundee - that's not a tide.

      We get serious tides up north ... "From Torres Strait round to the western end of the coast of Arnhem Land the spring range is about 10 feet, falling a little to 8½ feet at Port Essington, but increasing as we go westward until at St. Asaph Bay on Melville Island the range is 14 feet. At Port Darwin the mean spring range is increased to 24 feet but it is sometimes as much as 30 feet. Further along…

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    2. Alex Cannara

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter, ok, ok, yours are bigger than ours (waves, that is).
      ;]

      Maybe Mexico's Bay of California or Canada's Bay of Fundy can bring N. America back into the running?

      The thing is always to look at all costs and power density. The Stanford fellow who studied mixed wave & offshore wind got some levelling, due to the different drivers for each, but didn't go through a complete analysis of handling the transmission, conversion, grid interface and all the environmental issues -- whale migration…

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    3. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Alex Cannara

      Now look Alex these bloody whales have had it too good for too long. It's not like they can't see the things and just take a bit of a detour. I guess there are really dumb and arrogant whales that just think it's their ocean and plough on regardless. Same goes for boats.

      But that said, I agree completely regarding full cost and impact assessments. Some of the impacts are a bit hard to turn into dollars to get something directly comparable and maybe that's not even possible. We inevitably…

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    4. Alex Cannara

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Darned whales! They probably think their millions of years of Occupy Oceania mean they have priority and we should consult first. Maybe that could be part of the EIR for any ocean-power systems -- proposers must learn whale and have them sign off too?

      Do you folks get Aboriginal sign offs? We don't usually, but we've distracted our native groups by allowing them to build casinos -- their revenge..
      ;]
      Here's the engineering/environmental logic I've come to use: a) power density is key, b…

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    5. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Alex Cannara

      Darned sun! Pushing us around like we were damn cetaceans!

      I was actually just listening to a sun spotter woman on one of our national institutions here - the ABC's Science Show - last weekend. Apparently one of these Carrington events is predicted for the Xmas period and she will be spending the entire period glued to a screen waiting and watching for the first indications of a major flare-up. Takes two days to get here apparently - so I guess we all just run around unplugging things and putting…

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    6. Alex Cannara

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter, great idea on the grid-connected slots! We've a gym or two here that use exercise machines with generators to run their lights -- "Pump harder Pete, I can't 'read' my Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition".
      ;]
      You definitely seem better at acknowledging being the new folks on your continent. Our casino-native addiction actually allows organized crime back into local communities and the creation of gambling addicts, along with meth & all the others.

      Indeed another Carrington Event will be more expensive than climate change short term. But it'll add to the economy beforehand by upping sales of aluminum foil to wrap iGadgets in before the solar-proton blasts arrive. Hope they have plenty in the Space station.

      Historically, by the way, our 17 Apollo missions just missed dangerous solar blasts -- 17 misses in a row! Someone should have put a good bet down.
      ;]

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  3. Comment removed by moderator.

    1. Neil Gibson

      Retired Electronics Engineer

      In reply to John Coochey

      You have it John. No one in his right mind would invest in these schemes and I am certain all the beneficiaries of public largess who canvass these cockamamie ideas have invested no money in them. Where private industry gets involved it is only to get at lucrative government subsidies. I am surprised we have not tried to harness the power of moonbeams-certainly worth a grant or two!

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    2. Dania Ng

      Retired factory worker

      In reply to John Coochey

      Such schemes need government subsidies and investment, as traditional capital investment tends to circumvent new and radical industries. And scientists do put their money where their mouths are, but then struggle to convince venture capital to play nicely (e.g., http://www.geodynamics.com.au/IRM/content/home.html). No, we need courageous governments - look at the NBN; despite the criticism it continues to receive from those wielding silly neo-economic arguments, when complete it will enable Australian…

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    3. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Dania Ng

      Yes Dania it's a curious business isn't it this demand that electricity and energy should be free of government subsidy and interference... given that all our power comes from power stations built by the state, that the power travels on wires built by the state ... etc etc etc. No sense of history these folks. No idea how technology on this scale operates. Corner shop economics.

      And isn't it just typical that our gung-ho capitalists in this country are only willing to invest in a technology that is on the way out - that is proven and that has guaranteed streams of revenue, that is via the state, it's initial establishment and the regulatory apparatus that the state contrives to protect them.

      Yep real free-market heroes. As if.

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    4. Neil Gibson

      Retired Electronics Engineer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Previous governments much smarter than this lot did build state-of the-art power stations which generated cheap electricity for everyone including the poorest in the community. Now because of the ratbag ideas of a few electricity has become a luxury item . Of course financiers will not touch these crazy schemes because they are cleverer than our intellectually challenged pollies, and can actually add up.

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    5. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Neil Gibson

      Yes - what a pity they were spewing all that CO2 into the atmosphere to do it. No such thing as a cost-free source of power Neil... and the costs of this coal business are too big for your grandchildren to be carrying.

      The myth of cheap electricity depended on an immense subsidy from the environment and on fossilised energy which -one day eventually inevitably - will be used up. It was always bulldust. It always depended on subsidies and the State.

      Good to see you have such faith in the arithmetic capacities of our bankers and financiers. I just think they want risk-free investments backed by assets that exceed the investment value. Not that I'd be looking to banks or established financiers. I'd be looking to venture capitalists, you know risk taking investors. But they are - and always have been - a very rare species here.

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    6. Peter Reefman

      Project Manager

      In reply to Dania Ng

      Dania, I agree whole-heartedly that we need to have government support for these sorts of crucial infrastructure facilities. Just like NBN, and the proposed wave power in key areas, we should also have the government getting theri fingers dirty on geo-thermal.

      I understand that Oz has among the most substantial subterranean cracked hot rocks resources suitable for generating a huge percentage of our electricity. With most of it being "just off the grid" (by a parltry thousand kms or so) we…

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    7. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Well therefore they have missed the opportunity so you can fill the gap and make your fortune at the same time, I look forward to seeing the share float.

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    8. Neil Gibson

      Retired Electronics Engineer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      If you have dealt with venture capitalists and I have,they take very calculated risks not commit financial harakiri.
      The 10 billion dollars to be wasted in these "green"schemes would be better spent on reducing the 200 billion dollar debt we have loaded on our grandchildren in the last couple of years.

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    9. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Neil Gibson

      Of course you would think that Niel - but that only makes a sort of common sense if you reckon that global warming is rubbish and that we can do more and more of the same ad infinitum. I don't. Most of us don't agree with you. The government doesn't agree with you either. Terrible innit?

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    10. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Peter Reefman

      I assume that this is a tongue in cheek attack on the Flannery sponsored geothermal scheme which despite taxpayer subsidies has now reached junk bond status

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    11. Peter Reefman

      Project Manager

      In reply to John Coochey

      John, I DID close with a bit of levity. But that was more about expressing some frustration about the lack of foresight expressed by our pollies, many of whom seem to be focussed primarily on getting re-elected.

      I confess to not being all that current on how things stand now, but I've not seen anything to suggest that the resources are any less impressive than they were a few years ago.

      The trouble with any ventures like this is that you just can't do a bit of dabbling with it and see how…

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    12. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Dania Ng

      There is certainly no case for a taxpayer subsidy if the results can be patented or value internalised in some way. In the past thermal stations were constructed by Government on the mistaken belief they were a natural monopoly, the transmission may be but not production, The Government di not design and manufacture the turbines however,we already have poured millions of taxpayers money into a geothermal and the company is approaching bankruptcy faster than Fairfax. The usual technique be it for the Ord River Scheme, the Seasprite Helicopter or the VFT is to get sufficient public money until the hook is in over the barb and then the Government will not have an exit strategy and funds will continue indefinitely because it will not admit it has blundered. The existing paper is meaningless without some figures which can be checked otherwise it is pure fantasy.

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    13. Dania Ng

      Retired factory worker

      In reply to John Coochey

      Well, that's the point I was trying to make, John. This venture is an example where the scientists did put their own money up, and obtained some government assistance under limited previous schemes, but interest from investors was lackluster. I think that governments need to have a more proactive role in areas of significant import to the economy, and energy security is such an area. Otherwise such ventures will fail.

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    14. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Peter Reefman

      Again, I note the enthusiasm for several commentators to pull dollars from schools, indigenous programs, defence and hospitals to put it into not only unproven wave technology.

      Although I am not totally convinced that renewable power is the answer, if the government is going to subsidise renewables the bulk should be spent on proven power producing technology such as wind turbines. Only a small part should be risked on unproven technologies such as geo thermal power. The Oceanlinx debacle should put wave action power last on the list.

      Gerard Dean

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    15. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      That's right Gerard, we've tried that wave business - it didn't work. More energy there than they thought - the fools!

      It's like riding a bike or a horse isn't it? You give it a go - you fall off - well that's it then isn't it? Like those Wright Brothers with their silly notion of a flying machine - it's just a toy isn't it? How's that going to be any use at all? Or that horseless carriage business - pshaw I say... it'll never catch on.

      If only we could use the power of closed minds ... we wouldn't need to be looking at waves at all.

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    16. Dania Ng

      Retired factory worker

      In reply to Neil Gibson

      Neil and co-doubters. I happen to have quite conservative idea and values and I support prudent and responsible government. But this does not mean we should be silly in the face of the overwhelming evidence. We need to re-invigorate our economy which, discounting the mining boom, is becoming stagnant. Energy (in)security is one of the factors contributing to this. Considered risk-taking characterises innovative and progressive economies. Electrifying the continent, the Snowy River hydroelectric…

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    17. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to Dania Ng

      When brokers refer to a company as speculative, it means that your odds are about as good as the fifth hourse in the third race next Wednesday.

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    18. Neil Gibson

      Retired Electronics Engineer

      In reply to Dania Ng

      Wave energy is so weakly distributed as to be useless as a major energy source. Carnegie wave is a good example of how a company is set up on subsidies to research something which is completely impractical. The numbers do not work so why spend 50 million researching it. Don't Governments have anything better to do with this money.

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    19. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      'Only a small part should be risked on unproven technologies such as geo thermal power. '

      Geo thermal power is unproven? They have been generating power, and heating house hold hot water, for at least 55/60 years. Greenland has, or is establishing a far better managed system than is the New Zealand scheme which eventually had some problems due to the concept that everything was 'free' and limitless. They have learned better.

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    20. Neil Gibson

      Retired Electronics Engineer

      In reply to Philip Dowling

      The difference between the mining share boom that started with Poseidon , the dotcom bubble and the currrent green energy bubble is with the first two speculators used their own money and won or lost big. The Green Carpetbaggers are not using their own money but have their snouts firmly embedded in the public money trough for every subsidy and guarantee our foolish politicians will give them. They are like parasites sucking at the country's energy lifeblood with no real concern for the host,only dollars. At the end of the day it is not about the environment but about the money. It is hard to get an unbiased opinion when 97% of climate scientists rely on the global warming religion for their jobs as do those who peddle wind and solar power.

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  4. John Coochey

    Mr

    As this study was allegedly done by an economist can we have some figures please. I worked for the Federal Department of Resources and Energy in the seventies and these schemes were being proposed then. The only one that went ahead is rusting on an Australian beech and recently broke its moorings and caused a blackout, the only tidal scheme actually operating is in France and the French have concealed the actual costing much as they do with the Airbus and their VFT. A tidal scheme was started in the Bay of Fundy in the twenties but was abandoned and has never been revived. It would be more practical to harness hamsters turning treadmills.

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    1. David Goodfield

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to John Coochey

      Let's hope that any uptake of any wave technology is from Australian innovation e.g. Carnegie here in the West.

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    2. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to Gary Murphy

      Carnegie "project recently attracted a $9.9 million grant from the federal government’s Emerging Renewables Program and a $5.5 million grant from the WA government."
      A latter day philospher's stone?
      Further information on a classic penny dreadful can be found at :
      http://www.google.com/finance?cid=688219

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  5. Peter Hindrup

    consultant

    Not at all sure what 'wave power' signifies, or how it is harvested. However to build a unit that sits on the sea bed and utilises the ebb and flow of the coastal seas ought not involve massive sums, certianly not for pilot projects.

    Using the latest and best of the antifouling substances/materials would minimise most of the problems being put forward as obstacles. The generating equipment would simply be the best available today. There are no special or exceptional requirements.

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  6. Gerard Dean

    Managing Director

    This article is long on telling us that waves on the sea contain energy -lots of it. But that is not the problem.

    The problem is getting the energy out of the waves. The last serious Australian effort is Oceanlinx plant now rusting off Port Kembla. The energy in waves the plant was supposed to harvest ended up destroying it before any useful power was obtained.

    Failures like this naturally dampen investors enthusiasm to tip in more money, moneyfrom your and my superannuation funds. Furthermore, expecting the federal government to divert funds from schools, hospitals and our soldiers to wave energy projects with very little chance of success is not good governance.

    Let's agree with you that a there is a lot of energy in the sea, however, you should explore the likely costs and risks of extracting that energy so we can make an informed and economically sound decision.

    Thank you

    Gerard Dean

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    1. Alex Cannara

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      Very good points, Gerard. I assume this is the Rusty Scupper you mean...
      http://cleantechnica.com/2010/05/22/massive-offshore-waves-sink-australias-oceanlinx-wavepower-pilot/ I'd love a picture of the detritus.

      Problem is we have too many folks with too little science and too much $ looking around to get more $ from taxpayers via dressing their ideas up in 'green'. And, we have pop science journalists, trade journalists & associations that have to fill their output pages, etc. every week…

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    2. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Alex Cannara

      All depends how much they cost Alex. Some of them look pretty simple and cheap to make actually ... not just iron-man mattresses either... more like a string of bouys.

      I wish we had the interweb about when the Wright bros were tinkering with their absurd flying machine notion or that silly horseless carriage business ... thousands of duds, mistakes, piles of crumpled engineering ... gee did they look so stupid!!! ... It'll never catch on.... it'll never work ... yep.

      A bright bloke like yourself should be able to smell trouble when he finds himself in the company of old barnacles like Gerald here.

      Now if you've got some physics or economics that demonstrates that wave power will never - can never - work, then let's see it.

      Don't be in too much of a hurry to rubbish embryonic ideas. These things do not just arise fully formed and perfect from the drawing board. They require some tinkering. It's how we learn. How things eventually get off the ground.

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    3. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Alex Cannara

      'The fact that wave & wind are simply low power-density sources derived from solar input escapes these folks, until they're asked probing questions and about what they included in their EROI stories to funders.'

      Totally irrelevant! The Issue is at what point can this energy cycle be tapped, in the most simple. cost effective manner. Tap it as sunlight and you are left with storage problems and uncertainty caused by the weather.

      Tap it from the ocean and neither of those problems exist. The question is reduced to can the energy be tapped at a lessor cost than building solar powered systems. The answer is obviously; absolutely!

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    4. account deleted

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Alex Cannara

      I did a back-of-the envelope calculation on this sort of thing some time ago and it looked to be simply unfeasible given the slow rise of the tide and the small amount of work able to be done by the pontoons as a result. A pontoon with a mass (displacement) of 1tonne will yield just a watt of tidal power in Brisbane, with slightly more made during the middle of the tide and almost none at all during slack water.

      Surely the critical factor is that work, which means that pontoons for such a project…

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  7. mark feltrin

    Renewable Energy and Resources

    Said it for many years.
    Some kind of turbine or any other system near the heads of Port Philip Bay which is surrounded by greater Melbourne. On a daily basis the tide flows massive amounts of water.
    Just a small portion would supply a large amount of power next to the area of highest energy consumption in the state. With a port in Hastings nearby the project could be up scaled due to less shipping and still be easily environmentally conscious.
    Who is doing the investigation into this? Someone must be?
    There are so many reasons why this should be investigated.

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  8. Blair Donaldson

    logged in via Twitter

    Jenny, thanks for the interesting article. Is there any possibility of writing A more detailed article on two projects in particular, the Carnegie wave energy project off the coast of Perth using CETO technology:
    http://www.sciencewa.net.au/topics/technology-a-innovation/item/1711-first-wave-energy-plant-soon-to-sell-electricity.html
    and the latest developments from the tide power project in the channel between San Remo and Phillip Island in Victoria?

    It would also be good if you could provide…

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