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If it's got to be clean [energy] , it's got to be Tide
May 7, 2009 9:12 AM   Subscribe

The Wave Motors of California. "Still embedded somewhere in the shores of California, buried by more than a century of sand, are lost hydroelectric machines." Further reading.
posted by dersins (26 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is fascinating, and kind of crazy. I like to imagine that wave power is a new a high-tech thing, not a victorian revival.
posted by selenized at 9:26 AM on May 7, 2009


If you read some "history of energy" type books, you find a lot of stories like this. Stirling engines, alcohol-burning cars, solar water heaters, etc were all given up in the early 20th (or even later) because oil was so cheap. Good ol' short-sighted greed and conformism!
posted by DU at 9:30 AM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Good ol' short-sighted greed and conformism!

Eh, hind-sight is 20/20 and all that, but the energy that a gallon of gasoline contains is truly astounding. Considering that...
A) At the time (consumption/supply) we had an near-infinite amount of it.
B) No one could have predicted the climate changing result
C) It was cheap.
...there's really no surprise that gas won out.

What I do know is that our grandchildren will be mighty pissed that we took such a precious thing and just wasted it.
posted by unixrat at 9:42 AM on May 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


If there's anything else constant in humanity's essence beyond love and cruelty, it's inventiveness. Given a problem that infringes a personal comfort and just enough technical skill to bend a paperclip into a popper, a human will start lashing together a solution -- and whether one is called insane or a genius depends solely on whether it works. The rewards can be great, but only if there's a motivation to begin. Cheap energy and mass media has, for ten decades, diverted many of our brightest minds from thinking and tinkering and turned them into HFCS-sucking meatbags of barely more consequence than a rustling sack of rats. And yet, beyond love, cruelty and inventiveness there is also hope. Hope that these new challenges will inspire a new generation to stop sucking those teats and start creating that Googie future we fell in love with from the post-war open horizons of the 50s and 60s.

Some days I love humanity, some days I despair.
Stories like this give me hope again.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:48 AM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


C) It was cheap.

It's still cheap. Most people don't know the amount of potential energy in a $58 barrel of crude -- about 46-50 gallons of gasoline or more, depending on the mix. That's about .80 cents a gallon. Everything else is taxes and transportation.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:56 AM on May 7, 2009


I like wave energy, but the projects have a habit of falling apart when extreme events happen. I was peripherally involved in the Osprey project to install an oscillating air column device off the north coast of Scotland. It fell apart in rough waters on installation.
posted by scruss at 9:56 AM on May 7, 2009


DU: any suggestions for a book on the history of energy?
posted by selenized at 10:01 AM on May 7, 2009


Tidal punk?
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 10:13 AM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


...technical skill to bend a paperclip into a popper...

What is a popper in this context?

Most people don't know the amount of potential energy in a $58 barrel of crude

From this page you get 1.3x108 Joules per gallon. From the same page, if I did my math correctly (and I probably didn't), this is roughly equal to an explosion of 180kg of TNT.
posted by odinsdream at 10:14 AM on May 7, 2009


What is a popper in this context?

This.
posted by dersins at 10:24 AM on May 7, 2009


It's a jalapeno pepper filled with amyl nitrate.
posted by box at 10:40 AM on May 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


.80 cents a gallon
Do you mean .8 cents, or 80 cents (.8 dollars)?
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:52 AM on May 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


A barrel of crude contains ~6.1E9 J, and a gallon of gasoline 1.3E8 J. If you had a perfect conversion system, you'd get almost 47 gallons of gasoline out of each 42 gallon barrel of crude. We can't do that, of course — current refining gets about 19.5 gallons of unleaded gas from each barrel of crude.

There are, of course, other products produced from crude oil besides gasoline during the refining process — it's not totally waste — but it's always struck me as amazing how much of the energy in a barrel of oil never makes it to your gas tank (much less to your tires).

I think it's almost a given that future generations will look back on the centuries immediately following the Industrial Revolution and see the most spectacular squandering of irreplaceable natural resources ever to occur — or that ever will occur — in human history. Never again will we have the ability to simply stick a pipe into the ground and have such a marvelous product come gushing out.

Furthermore, it seems entirely possible that the 'progress' achieved as a result of the Industrial Revolution is a one-shot deal. If civilization were to collapse to pre-industrialization, our descendants won't have easily-accessible coal and petroleum which with to bootstrap themselves a second time.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:01 AM on May 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


DU: any suggestions for a book on the history of energy?

Unfortunately, no. My stuff has been picked up from other histories (mainly science and technology) that mention energy. That said, A Golden Thread follows solar energy and talks quite a bit about various active and passive schemes in the early 20th.
posted by DU at 11:03 AM on May 7, 2009


A) At the time (consumption/supply) we had an near-infinite amount of it.

Did they even know how much they had at the time? ISTR that Frank Shuman pointed out pretty early (i.e. before even 1920) that oil was not unlimited.

B) No one could have predicted the climate changing result

Maybe not climate changing in particular, but pollution was a known issue even back then.

C) It was cheap.

Which I'm sure was completely unrelated to oil robber barons. *cough*teapotdome*cough

But in any case, you are only arguing my "short-sighted" point. Failure to think ahead about things you might be missing. "Is our consumption going to rise?" "What are we dumping into the air?" Etc.
posted by DU at 11:10 AM on May 7, 2009


I think it's almost a given that future generations will look back on the centuries immediately following the Industrial Revolution and see the most spectacular squandering of irreplaceable natural resources ever to occur — or that ever will occur — in human history.

More likely they'll look back and think of burning crude oil and it's byproducts as being as sensible as we look at burning wale oil today. It would seem completely ridiculous that anyone would even try it.
posted by delmoi at 12:04 PM on May 7, 2009


I think it would be hard to see a future of resource depletion when you have plains full of bison and elk, miles and miles of trees, mountains full of buried energy, and huge bodies of water. I'd be interested to know when there was first any concern about resource capacities, and how those concerns were addressed / viewed by the greater public.

42 gallons of crude makes
19 gallons of gasoline
9 gallons of diesel fuel and home heating oil
4 gallons of jet fuel (which is basically kerosene)
2 gallons heavy fuel oil (bunker fuel, it's used in ships and big apps like power generation)
2 gallons still gas (highly refined white gas)
2 gallons coke (I think this is another heavy fuel stock)
1.5 gallon asphalt
1.5 gallon petrochem feedstocks (fertilizer)
.5 gallon of lubricants
.5 gallon true kerosene
other stuff like naptha, gases and various thinners, and plastics waaay down at the bottom
That's a lot more than just getting you from home to work and around for errands on the weekends. Lots of water bottles, and much more.

As for wave power: keen stuff! Interesting to see that it was pursued well before energy crises or things of that sort.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:34 PM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


"In other words, what now appear to be eroded cliffs and chipped coastal plateaus are actually derelict machine parts from the 19th century. "

Is it wrong that I really want to replace the "19th" there with some other large number (812th?), giving credit for the cliffs and plateaus to Slartibartfast (fjords!) or some sort of Grant Morrison pan-dimensional overlords?
posted by bartleby at 1:39 PM on May 7, 2009


scruss writes "I like wave energy, but the projects have a habit of falling apart when extreme events happen."

We like to think we are so advanced compared to our grandparents and their grand parents. Yet much new technology is from old ideas that just didn't have the material science available to be possible/practical or the pile of engineering mistakes to reduce blind and dangerous alleys during development.

Also advances in financing have allowed projects to get funding.
posted by Mitheral at 3:18 PM on May 7, 2009


Tidal punk?

New Old Wave.
posted by quin at 3:20 PM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think it would be hard to see a future of resource depletion when you have plains full of bison and elk, miles and miles of trees, mountains full of buried energy, and huge bodies of water. I'd be interested to know when there was first any concern about resource capacities, and how those concerns were addressed / viewed by the greater public.

Well, anecdotally, much of the early development of the coal mining industry in Britain was spurred on by the fact that by the mid-seventeenth century deforestation had made wood much more expensive.
posted by nasreddin at 3:33 PM on May 7, 2009


I'm picturing the mindnet of 200 years from now, filled with outraged rants about how they can't believe that people in the 21st century didn't think we'd ever run out of atoms to split or wind to power our turbines.
posted by dersins at 3:44 PM on May 7, 2009


I like wave energy, but the projects have a habit of falling apart when extreme events happen

Carnegie Corp reckons they've got that issue sorted.
posted by flabdablet at 1:51 AM on May 8, 2009



"I like wave energy, but the projects have a habit of falling apart when extreme events happen"


When you consider that devices have to be able to gather as much energy as possible from a 'normal' sea, when waves will be typically about 2m Hs in the North Atlanticand also be able to avoid as much energy as possible in a storm when the sea might be throwing waves of 28m at them, you can understand the scale of the problem.

Although the industry is something of a wild frontier at the moment with a plethora of devices, no device would be able to get continued funding unless it has credible surviveability. (Devices such as the Osprey and Salter's ducks really led the way in proving that wave energy is viable, although many early devices suffered from underfunding and over-expectations.)

The race now is to show commercialisation. The first devices to prove they can reliably generating power at a commercial cost will have a massive market to themselves. There is no real history of wave power I know of; this is very much an industry in the making. The books are yet to be written!

I highly recommend this google presentation as an introduction to the subject.
posted by BadMiker at 5:51 AM on May 8, 2009


Cheap energy and mass media has, for ten decades, diverted many of our brightest minds from thinking and tinkering

In fact the head of the Saudi oil industry has plainly stated that the reason they went against OPEC and increased oil production to reduce gas prices from the $4/gallon they had reached was precisely to prevent Western nations from coming up with ways to reduce their dependency on oil.
posted by eye of newt at 9:48 AM on May 8, 2009


BadMiker: I think scruss was talking about shore line wave devices primarily, as well as the Orkney one he mentions I think there was also a Norwegian OWC project on a cliff (possibly early 90s?) which was just not there one morning after a storm.

I think you make some interesting points about ohsore wave energy devices, I've done some work on the development process relating to wind turbine technology and how we ended up with the Danish concept which not dominated the sector. I am fascinated to see what direction the wave sector will take and what technologies will end up dominant, if any at all. There's a real possiblity that wave will lose out if more effort isn't made at national and international levels to get the technoogies from the current stage to commercialisation. The sector is really still at the pilot stage, very few devices have been installed in anger and there is virtually no real performance data. Governments will need to develop coherent policy strategies to get the technologies through the remaining stages to commercialisation. Work needs to be done to set up more testing facilites, projects to defer some of the costs of establishing and testing arrays of devices, work on optimising mooring of devices and on connection to distribution grids. And more!

The credit crunch is also biting in the wave sector as it appears to be doing across the renewable energy sector as a whole. My understanding is that the German utility E.on have withdrawn funding from Pelamis, which was looking to be at the head of the field in getting devices in the water. Going to some wave energy related events over the last few years it is interesting to see some of the companies keeping a watching eye on wave in case if should become the next big renewable energy thing so hopefully work will pick up again.

It is interesting if you compare developments in regard of wave energy with advances in tidal stream then there is a real possibility that the latter will overtake the former, Korea is already talking about a 300MW installation, which would outdo current offshore wave by an order of magnitude.
posted by biffa at 7:11 AM on May 22, 2009


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