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Opinion: The Ocean is the Ultimate Resource for a Green Future

Guest Submission by Exavier Wells

A wave power generator in Great Britain — Photo © Sylvia Duckworth (cc-by-sa/2.0)

The importance of climate solutions such as diverting the assets and production capacity of all fossil-fuel companies away from oil, coal, and gas towards clean energy should not be understated, but there must also be a marshaling of the entire world’s resources in order to build a universal green energy collection and distribution system. The world currently gets less than 30% of its total energy from renewable sources, and climate scientists warn that we need to transition to a 100% renewable system within 7 years. The only solution left is to adopt radical and wholly transformative methods of energy production to reach this monumental yet necessary deadline. Solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and tidal are the forms of energy on which this globally interconnected green energy system must be built, and the ocean holds the key to a mass increase in the production of global energy. These energy solutions must be adopted to their fullest extent if humanity seeks to provide sustainable power sources to the estimated ten billion people that will call our planet home by the year 2050.

If one were to strike up a conversation about renewable energy, the first option that would be mentioned is likely solar energy, and that is for good reason. It has the most potential for a dramatic expansion in use and efficiency rates of solar capture are always increasing. The major downside of solar is the sheer amount of space that it takes to generate a sizable volume of energy. However, this is not as much of a limiting factor as it may appear. Plans and concepts exist to turn large swaths of the Sahara Desert into solar farms that not only could power all of Africa but could also help to power a majority of the Earth. An added benefit of this project is that the installation of massive solar farms could increase rainfall in the region which would bring more water stability, lower temperatures, and increase crop yields in an area that desperately needs it. Quite surprisingly though, solar farms do not work very efficiently in hot arid conditions, instead, they work in conditions that are cooler such as near the coast. Another such plan that could be brought into use, that would particularly benefit from cooler conditions, would be putting solar farms en masse over water. This would give us virtually unlimited space to build such projects along with allowing them to operate at their maximum efficiency. While that may sound like a far-fetched idea, we already have exceptionally large solar farms that are completely ocean-based. All we would have to do is scale them up.

It is estimated that offshore wind farms alone could generate more than 11 times the amount of energy currently needed for all uses on the planet. These offshore wind farms could work in the same space that oceanic solar farms occupy, as not to add any undo clutter to the oceans, and help maximize energy production per square mile. Another such benefit to putting these renewable energy farms on the water as opposed to inland is that the cost of excavating areas for industrial level green energy capture is much more of labor- and resource-heavy process than simply floating the farm or building pillars on which to set turbines, not to mention the conflict that clearing vast swaths of land could cause, both environmentally and socially. Furthermore, the almost never-ending barrage of wind upon the oceans makes them the perfect place for wind farms.

Hydroelectric and geothermal energy can be used on a community-wide basis, such as putting a series of hydroelectric or geothermal plants alongside a city, town, or community. However, while still important, these solutions that can be implemented for small cities and communities cannot support the growing population around them on their own (though of course they could be utilized as supplementary energy sources). Tidal energy, on the other hand, can be implemented on a massive scale to transfer the energy of waves crashing upon every coast in the world into usable energy for everyone. This technology will particularly benefit impoverished islands or coastal regions such as Puerto Rico where tidal plants could generate 20 TWh per year. While tidal energy’s main drawback is that it is limited in scope as it can mainly only operate along coastlines (though this is changing), it is much more predictable than wind or solar energy, as the natural process that produces the tides is more easily monitored. There are a few significant issues when it comes to tidal energy. One potential problem is the resource cost as quite large structures are required that could be potentially detrimental to local ecosystems because of disruption. This problem, however, is not insurmountable. Tidal generators are being developed that are very similar to wind turbines and could harness the natural energy at an even greater size-to-electricity-produced ratio than their wind equivalents. These options seem promising, but they will take time, and time is something in short supply. We have until the year 2030 at the latest to bring our carbon emissions to net-zero. A rapid transition will be difficult, but it is the only chance we have.




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