The month of June marks World Environment Day and World Ocean Day, two days whose main purpose is to spread awareness of environmental issues taking place in the world. However, a black cloud hangs over this year’s events as thousands of gallons of oil each day are currently gushing into the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the Deep Horizon oilrig that exploded and sank on April 20, 2010.
This oil spill shows that the time is now to invest, innovate, and utilize renewable energy technologies that can reduce our dependency on oil consumption and preserve our environment.
In 1999, assessments showed that Americans consumed 25 percent of the world’s oil but held less than 3 percent. In 2009, statistics showed that Americans consumed approximately 23% of the world’s oil. It is hard to believe that with all of the new changes in energy efficiency and renewable energy technology that have been created over the last decade that a more significant shift in America’s oil dependency has not taken place.
Without more policy that demands the utilization of renewable energy and the implementation of energy conservation measures, the country will not be able to steer itself away from oil dependency. This means continued relationships with unreliable foreign sources of oil (threatening our national security), more drilling along our coasts, (threatening our natural habitats and wildlife) and more chances for disasters to occur like the one currently in the Gulf, (ultimately threatening our economy and our way of life).
Ironically, the reduction of oil dependency and enhanced protection of the world’s oceans is vital not only to the sustainability of the planet, but also for the preservation of one of our greatest resources of renewable energy that could help solve the energy problem. In essence, we must utilize the very thing we are destroying in order to save ourselves. More specifically, one way that we could avoid disasters like the Gulf oil spill and save our oceans would be to harness the renewable power of our oceans.
Today there are many organizations dedicated to oceanic and marine wildlife preservation. One organization that is trying to connect different groups under the banner of oceanic renewable energy is the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition. The OREC is a national trade association that is “dedicated to promoting marine and hydrokinetic energy technologies from clean, renewable ocean resources.” It has more than 40 members, all of which work towards these goals. In fact, some of these organizations are literally “turning the tide” when it comes to renewable energy by using techniques that harnessing ocean waves and currents to produce energy. A few of my favorites are listed below:
- Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) was founded to find ways to harness ocean energy. It’s PowerBuoy 40 acts as a wave energy converter while submerged. As it bobs in the ocean it works a hydraulic pump that drives a generator that produces electricity, which then can be sent to shore via an underwater cable.
- The Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) works to create technologies that use the ocean to produce renewable energy. One of these projects is installing power systems all along the Gulf Stream’s ocean currents (which has 21,000 times the energy of Niagara Falls). With the constant flow of the Gulf Stream, if ORPC harnesses just 1/1000 of the Gulf’s renewable energy that would still be enough to power up to 7 million homes.
While wave power technology has been a known technology for years, there is another source of energy that comes from the ocean. Algae is a considerably new source of potential renewable energy that some analysts believe holds incredible potential for the U.S. Half of algae’s weight is oil, which can be converted into biofuels that could power anything from cars to airplanes. Considering that there over 65,000 known algae species this could potentially be a big time future energy source.
Yet, renewable energy from the ocean is only one step towards sustainability. Energy must be used more efficiently. Individual behavior needs to change to avoid the overconsumption that plagues the United States and the unwillingness to give up that way of life is feeding our current dependency on crude oil.
In 2007, the U.S. depended on crude oil to meet 39% of the total energy demand. In that same year, hydroelectric power supplied only 2.5% of our energy demand. Renewable sources combined provided only 6.7%. We need to increase the use of renewable sources of energy and wean ourselves off of conventional sources of energy in order to avoid disasters like the Gulf oil spill from happening again. The time to develop the technology is now.
Former President Clinton cofounded the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), along with counselor Doug Band in order to address world issues. Today, solving the energy problem is one of its top priorities. Clinton recently issued a statement claiming that the U.S. Navy may have to step in and blow up the oil well in the Gulf to stop further leaks. A statement like this really puts the magnitude of the problem into perspective.
Marcus Reyes studied public policy with a focus on energy research and environmental sustainability. He is an advocate of clean energy technology and contributes written work to the blogosphere related to energy conservation and environmental preservation.