Lakes and oceans are huge, untapped resources of renewable energy, offering power more predictable than solar or wind, accessible around the clock and even easily stored (in the sense, apparently, that they never stop producing energy). So says a Ryerson University study, which argues that harnessing marine energy would require smaller and less-expensive infrastructure than other forms of energy, all the while being sustainable and environmentally sound.
Farshid Zabihian and his former professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Ryerson, Alan Fung, authored the study together, with Zabihian providing the data from seas and lakes in his native Iran. Using his findings, the researchers examined five types of marine energy to see which one was the most viable.
Wave energy, for example, which is produced by the wind moving the water, does not require a large area of land in order to harness the energy from waves, making it ideal for small, remote islands where connecting to the power grid is difficult and expensive. The World Energy Council speculates that wave energy could meet up to 12 percent of electricity demand worldwide. Tidal energy could replace other types of power generation due to its predictable nature. This form of marine energy harnesses the potential and kinetic energies created by the gravitational force exerted on water by the sun and moon, as well as the planet’s rotation.
Fung and Zabihian (pictured above) also examined other forms of marine energy. Ocean thermal energy takes advantage of the temperature differences between the warm, shallow waters and the deeper, colder waters. Ocean current energy is the energy produced by wind and temperature differences under the ocean’s surface, and would require underwater turbines to be captured. Salinity gradient energy is the production of energy from the pressure difference between fresh and salt water.
“Bodies of water are a huge, untapped source of energy. They contain highly concentrated and highly dense forms of energy, which provide roughly the same amount of energy as thousands of solar panels and wind turbines,” Fung said. “You need to have a vision for the future,” added Zabihian. “We shouldn’t wait until the technology is perfect to use marine energy. We can start right now by introducing it in smaller communities and through pilot projects.”