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China’s Ocean Energy Push Comes with a High Price

Released: 4-Apr-2014 1:00 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: Cornell University
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Philip Liu, Cornell professor of civil and environmental engineering, is an expert in coastal oceanography, including waves and tides, says adding tidal-flow generators to China’s coast would be a costly engineering project with significant environmental impacts.

Liu says:

“It has been known for a long time that there are three major energy sources that could be converted into electricity: tidal currents, gravity surface waves and thermal gradients. There is almost an infinite supply of these energy sources. However, the amount of available ocean energy intensity per surface area might not be that great in many parts of the world. Therefore a commercial plant must cover a large surface area, which is not only costly, but may have significant negative environmental impacts.

“Up to now the most promising ocean energy source is tidal current, which is very predictable spatially and temporally. Furthermore, the turbine technology appears to be mature enough to take on the new challenges.

“It is not clear to me where this Tidal Wall project is going to be in China. But I can guess that it must be pretty close to the famous Qiantang River in the eastern Zhejiang Province of China. It would be a huge engineering project with significant environmental impact on the regional coastal system. I assume that they will study this problem carefully. It is a totally doable project; it is just matter of how much one is willing to invest.

“If we can get the costs down enough, I think that the tidal current- and surface wave-generated energy can be used as a part of overall energy supply, and thus reduce the consumption of fossil fuel. Ocean energy could also play an important role in certain locations, such as remote islands, etc., in general, however, it will not be able to compete with other alternative energy in the near future. This does not mean that we should not make effort to advance the technology.”

Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews.

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