With the exception of nuclear power and the small quantity of geothermal energy we currently tap, essentially all of our present energy supply consists of some form of solar power. Wind power and photovoltaic cells tap current solar power, while fossil fuels represent solar energy stored over geologic time. With 71% of the earth's surface covered by oceans, which thus receive roughly the same percentage of the solar radiation hitting the earth, ocean energy ought to be a promising component of our future energy supply. This article from MIT's Technology Review highlights one avenue for achieving this, by tapping the power of the waves.
As the article suggests, wave power ought to be less controversial than offshore wind farms, the other main proposal for tapping ocean-based energy, though perhaps the former has simply escaped the notice of the groups that might oppose it. After all, it still represents a form of human interference in the ocean ecosystem, and it could affect shipping and fishing interests, depending on location.
The other issue raised here concerns whether the US government should fund more research in this area, given the apparently strong interest of other countries, including the UK. In the current fiscal environment, it makes sense to be selective about where we invest, as long as someone is pursuing this option. Once the technology gets closer to commerciality, we could provide the same kind of tax benefits currently enjoyed by wind power, which is probably ten to fifteen years ahead of wave power in its stage of technology development. The real advantage in wave power is probably in its application, rather than ownership of the patents.
Overall, the potential for wave power is so large that we should definitely monitor developments in this area closely and weigh them against our other alternatives. Meanwhile, there are other areas in which federal research funds can probably have more impact, including hydrogen and advanced nuclear technology.
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