It seems that the "Base our entire society on something we burn faster than it's made" strategy has one or two problems. Especially when you make a habit of blowing up the parts of the world it comes from. People are increasingly looking at energy sources which are less volatile (both literally and figuratively), and while solar is enjoying some time in the sun some are turning to the tides.
There are exaJoules of energy to be had everywhere there's a coast, and it's not like we're ever going to run out of moon (unless NASA gets significantly more vigorous in terms of sample collection). The problem is that seawater is right at the bottom of the list of things machines like, just below "gremlins" and "gremlins covered in powerful magnets and metal-dissolving acid." The variability of the tides also makes it difficult to harness.
One intelligent option put forward by Portuguese power-people and Professor Mei of MIT is the Oscillating Water Column (OWC). This system uses the water to push a contained column of air back and forth, and air is a hell of a lot easier to work with than water. No matter where in the column the water resides, its motion pumps airflow over a rotor that drives an electricity generating motor. In fact, a large enough OWC can be built to resonate with the wave frequency, radically increasing the effectiveness of the energy extraction. The only problem is the timescale for this project: those involved admit it may still be decades before the power plants can be made effective enough for widespread use.
This could be a serious hurdle, since the only reason people are listening at all is the price of oil. But we can be fairly sure we'll still actually need electricity in a couple of decades, and short-term thinking for such essential services is no good. In the absolute short-term, rubbing your hands together is a faster way to feel warmer than screwing around with twigs and flint. We should count ourselves lucky no cavemen had to justify the cost-effectiveness of rubbing sticks together.
Posted by Luke McKinney
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