As great as renewable, green energy techniques are, they’re all generally limited by terrain. Wind turbines are only useful in windy climates, water turbines need a constant source of flowing water, and solar panels benefit most from wide, flat, cloudless areas. It’s fairly rare that you see two of these energy-collecting devices in the same spot, and it’s pretty much unheard of that you find all three together.
Well, architects think that the ocean can host floating islands that utilize four different kinds of energy sources: wind, solar, wave, and heat. And the best thing about them is that they would take up very few resources. Theoretically, we should be able to build a few of these self-sustaining platforms and plop them out in the middle of the ocean where they’ll calmly float around and suck up gobs of energy. Here’s how they’ll work:
As I said before, solar panels need flat, open spaces without a lot of cloud cover, and it just doesn’t get any flatter than the ocean. Here on terra firma, the main thing that restricts solar power generation is the amount of space that’s available. Land is expensive, so it’s not always economically feasible to convert hundreds of acres into a solar field. Putting these floating platforms out in the ocean won’t cost you a dime. Well, making them and actually dragging them out there will cost a decent amount, but using the solar panels won’t suck up valuable real estate.
Let’s see how well you were paying attention in science class. Where does wind come from? If you guessed “heat,” then you’ve made your old high school science teacher proud. The sun heats land much more quickly than its heats up water, so there is a natural temperature difference between bodies of water and land masses. Warm air rises, and colder air from nearby bodies of water rush in to take its place. Put a few wind turbines in these windy spots and you’ll gather enough electricity to power a few cities.
Wave energy is pretty much the exact same thing as wind energy, except that it all happens underwater. Basically, imagine a floating platform with a bunch of wind farms, and then flip the panel upside-down so that the wind farms are submerged. The underwater currents will slowly turn the fans as it passes by, and this mechanical energy can be converted into electricity. Unlike the other two previous energy forms, which require the presence of the sun to work well, the ocean’s currents are constant. Wave energy works fairly well at night, even while other power generators are taking a nap.
Architect and engineer Dominic Michaelis, his son, Alex Michaelis (also an architect), and Trevor Cooper-Chadwick are working together to create a new way to generate energy using heat from the ocean. They use the heat from the surface of the ocean to convert liquid ammonia into vapor, which rises and moves a turbine. Then, they use cool water from deeper into the ocean to condense the vapor into liquid and repeat the process all over again. It’s similar to how conventional coal power plants work: burn coal to heat up water, which converts into steam and turns a turbine, and then cool the water to do it again. This thermal energy technique does the same thing, but without burning a single lump of coal.
As if that wasn’t already eco-friendly enough, one byproduct of this thermal energy technique is that it desalinates water. Free energy that creates clean drinking water as a byproduct? Yes, please!
Michaelis and crew believe that combining all of these energy techniques into an enormous floating platform could provide as much as 250MW of electricity. Don’t have any idea how much 250MW of electricity is? Me neither! But I can put it into perspective for you this way: Michaelis estimates that 50,000 of these platforms should create enough energy to power the entire world, and they would also generate enough clean drinking water that every person on earth could fill up a whole swimming pool with clean drinking water every day.
I’ve gotta ask: why are we not all scrambling to build these things right now?