Alternative Energy: Ocean Energy

solar and wind power

Alternative energy

This is the first of an article series on totally wacky and sometimes reasonable alternative energy sources. Ocean energy is one of the reasonable ones. (I’m assuming you read Blasted Science for entertainment. If you’re actually trying to learn something, you should look elsewhere. Now shut up and read my chemistry essay article)

Fossil fuels are the backbone of our energy-guzzling society. Fossil fuels are also the backbone of a dinosaur. The term “fossil fuels” refers to a category of energy sources that are nonrenewable and mostly made of dead things. Coal, natural gas, crude oil, and dinosaurs are all examples of fossil fuels. For instance, the electricity being used by the electronic device you’re using to read this article was probably generated by a dinosaur.

As much as it pains me type, fossil fuels are running out. If this happens, power companies will have to resort to using large employee-powered hamster wheels to generate electricity. Obviously, we can’t let this happen! Hamsters and unions would violently protest. To avoid this nightmare scenario, we need to come up with ways of powering our gadgets without damaging fossils.

Ocean Energy

One unknown but fairly practical source of energy is our oceans. Since the Earth’s surface is around seventy percent water, you can collect it from almost anywhere and use it on a wide scale. There are three different types of ocean energy: wave energy, tidal energy, and ocean thermal energy conversion.

Wave Energy

Wave energy is produced by—you guessed it—waves. It is completely renewable, widely available, eco-friendly, and dinosaur-friendly. Produced by placing ship-like structures out in the ocean, these structures use their buoyancy to rise and fall with the waves. Then, they take the kinetic energy of the wave and convert it into electrical energy, much like the generators in the Hoover Dam. There are downsides though: it could affect the marine ecosystem, it’s dependent on wavelength, and could cause disturbances to other boats; commercial and private.

Tidal Energy

Tidal energy uses the kinetic energy of tides (not waves) and converts it into electrical energy. It’s renewable and can produce electricity on a large scale. Tides are also more predictable than waves, which probably affects something in some beneficial way. Although it follows the same principle of kinetic/electrical conversion, tidal uses a different approach. Instead of using the rising and falling of waves, it uses turbines, in similar fashion to windmills. Moving tides carry a lot of force. That, in turn, moves the turbines, which generate electricity. Although it can hurt the land, cause disturbances to boats, and chop up fish like kale in a vegan’s blender, compared to dinosaurs this option sounds positively heartwarming.

ocean energy: "tide mill"

Tidal Energy “Tide Mill”

Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion

Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC for short) is different than the others, obviously implying that it’s more useful (think Rudolph).  As the name implies, it converts the thermal energy of the ocean into electrical energy. This is how it works, the sun beams down onto the water, and as it sends energy into the ocean, it excites the water molecules, causing them to warm up. Then the machine (which looks a lot like an oil rig) takes the warm surface water and cold deep water into heat exchangers, which generate electricity. It is one of the continuously available renewable energy resources. It can potentially generate up to 88,000 terrawatt-hours/yr of power. There are two types of OTEC: open- or closed-cycle. Closed-cycle generators use refrigerant fluids, such as ammonia. These fluids have low boiling points and that makes them suitable for powering the generator. Open-cycle generators use sea water vapor to work as the fluid instead of the refrigerants.

Ocean thermal energy conversion diagram

OTEC Diagram

I think that Ocean energy could be the next big source of energy. It seems practical even though it may have some difficulties connected to it. Ocean energy can and will bring energy to everybody and everything. Say goodbye to dinosaurs. Welcome to the Future.