Palm Beach conference focuses on using ocean to generate energy
By Mike Clary
June 29, 2004
Wind farms sprouting from the ocean. Generators turned by the unceasing energy of the waves and tides. Turbines that can harness the relentless churn of the Gulf Stream, coursing northward just off shore from Palm Beach County.
Those are a few of the technologies being discussed this week at the seaside Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach in what is described as the first conference focused on renewable ocean energy sources.
Sponsored by Ocean News & Technology, a magazine based in Palm City, the meeting brings together some 140 participants, representing government agencies and private firms from the United States and more than 15 nations.
The two-day conference ends this afternoon following a luncheon address by Phillippe Pierre Cousteau, representing the third generation of a family well known for its exploration of the world above and below the ocean's surface. Cousteau heads EarthEcho International, a foundation seeking environment-friendly technologies designed to lessen the degradation of the world's seas.
Robert Middleton, director of the White House Task force on Energy Projects Streamlining, opened the meeting Monday by assuring his audience that the federal government supported various forms of renewable energy, including those from the oceans.
Fossil fuels supply about 90 percent of the world's energy, according to scientists. And although the United States does produce some energy from alternative sources -- nuclear, hydrogen, solar, wind and landfill gas, for example -- this nation lags far behind some European nations in harnessing the seas, according to conference assembler Dan White, an ocean engineer and publisher of Ocean News.
"Looking out at waves crashing on the beach, and knowing the Gulf Stream is right out there is a reminder that energy is 24/7. It's non-polluting and inexhaustible," White said.
"But it boils down to economics. If it is cheaper to burn fossil fuels, that's what we'll do.
"The government needs to step up and provide financing that will encourage private development to take ocean energy under its wing," he said. "Then the funding gap will be closed."
There are some hopeful signs however, White said. FPL Energy, a sister company of Florida Power & Light, has proposed a $300 million investment in a 40-turbine, 140-megawatt wind farm for the Long Island Power Authority in New York that could be up and running by 2007.
"We are very excited about this," FPL spokesman Steve Stengel said.
With support from the U.S. Navy, Florida Hydro Power & Light Co. of Palatka is testing a 100-kilowatt hydroelectric turbine off the coast of St. Augustine that could be the forerunner of a network of such turbines in the Gulf Stream from Palm Beach County to Miami.
Technology to tap the power of the seas is in its infancy, White said. And the marine environment is unforgiving.
But scientific estimates suggesting that one-tenth of 1 percent of the energy in ocean waves is capable of supplying five times the world's electrical power demand.
"It's a natural thing for us to explore," White said.
Mike Clary can be reached at mwclary@...
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