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Tidal power: Energy's wave of the future?

While marine and hydrokinetic energy may be quite literally the wave of the future, its moment may be beyond the current horizon, Graeber writes. That said, it's predictable, it's easy to get to, and some of the world's most densely populated areas are coastal communities, which means it's cheap to connect to the grid.

By Dan GraeberGuest blogger / September 10, 2013

Waves crash against rocks in the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur, Calif.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File

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Back in January, the Federal Regulatory Commission decided a good place for a new pilot project for tidal energy was, in all places, the East River in New York City near Queens. FERC said it would let Verdant Power tinker with a system designed to use the river's tidal currents to generate electricity.

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FERC seemed to be taking a page from the city's ferry system with its plans for renewable goals by saying that, with all the controversy surrounding shale, just relax oh ye low-carbon advocates, we'll get you there.

FERC said the pilot license was part of a project it cooked up a few years ago to let developers play around with new hydrokinetic technologies. Verdant said it thinks it could spin out enough power to meet the needs of 9,000 or so New York homes without breaking a blade and without killing a fish. (Related article: Riding the Wave of Marine Energy Generation)

Dry holes, natural gas clouds in the Gulf of Mexico, cloudy days and calm weather mean very little for some marine energy technologies. Most are as predictable as lunar phases. 

Verdant had its problems – turbines would break and so on. The company said its Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy was the first of its kind in the world to connect to the grid, however. But that's not the waning end of this mariner's tale.  A few months after FERC said okay, ScottishPower Renewables announced its wave energy converter had exported 160 megawatt-hours of electricity to the national grid. That system, developed by Pelamis, can work in waves as high at 29 feet. There's nothing like that in the East River.

So why am I, your humble guest, talking about that now? Now is the time to talk about shale, oil-by-rail and the market fundamentals of the drawdown in Libyan crude oil production. Renewable energy, you say, is expensive and mired in bureaucracy. It was not so long ago that solar power was clouded by the bankruptcy of government-backed SolyndraNow, companies like SunPower and First Solar are reaping the rewards, with share prices rising by 272 percent and 47 percent respectively for the year.

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