Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization

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Lester R. Brown

Chapter 12. Turning to Renewable Energy: River, Tidal, and Wave Power

Roughly 16 percent of the world’s electricity comes from hydropower, most of it from large dams. Some countries such as Brazil and the Democratic Republic of the Congo get most of their electricity from river power. Large dam building flourished during the third quarter of the last century, but then slowed as the remaining good sites for dam building dwindled and as opposition built because of the displacement of people and inundation of productive land. 88

 

Small-scale projects continue to be built. In 2006 small dams with a combined 6,000 megawatts of generating capacity were built in rural areas of China. For many rural communities these are the only source of electricity. Though China leads, many other countries also are building small-scale structures, as the economics of generation increasingly favor renewable sources over fossil fuels. There is also a growing interest in in-stream turbines that do not need a dam and are thus less environmentally intrusive. 89

 

The first large tidal generating facility—La Rance barrage, with a generating capacity of 240 megawatts—was built 40 years ago in France and is still operating today. Within the last few years interest in tidal power has spread rapidly. South Korea, for example, is building a 254-megawatt project on its west coast. When completed in 2009, this facility will provide enough electricity for the half-million people living in the nearby city of Ansan. At another site 30 miles to the north, engineers are planning an 812-megawatt tidal facility near Inchon. 90

 

Not far away, China is planning a 300-megawatt tidal facility at the mouth of the Yalu River near North Korea. Far to the south, New Zealand is planning a 200-megawatt project in the Kaipara Harbour on the country’s north coast. 91

 

Gigantic projects are under consideration in several countries, including India, Britain, and Russia. India is planning to build a 39-mile barrage across the Gulf of Khambhat on the country’s northwest coast with a 7,400-megawatt generating capacity. In the United Kingdom, several political leaders are pushing for an 8,600-megawatt tidal facility in the Severn Estuary on the county’s southwest coast. Russian planners are also talking in terms of 10,000-megawatt tidal power plants. One such facility is to be built in the Sea of Okhotsk on the east coast, and another is proposed for the White Sea in northwestern Russia, near Finland. 92

 

In the United States, the focus is on smaller tidal facilities. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued preliminary permits for projects in Puget Sound, San Francisco Bay, and New York’s East River. The San Francisco Bay project by Oceana Energy Company will have 40 or more megawatts of generating capacity. In addition to these proposals, 38 applications are pending from states on both coasts. 93

 

Wave power, though it is a few years behind tidal power, is now attracting the attention of both engineers and investors. In the United States, the northern Californian utility PG&E has filed a plan to develop two 40-megawatt wave farms off the state’s north coast. Oil giant Chevron filed for a permit to develop up to 60 megawatts of wave generating capacity nearby. 94

 

The South West of England Regional Development Agency invited bids by firms to test their technologies in the Wave Hub Project off the coast of Cornwall. The authority will provide cable connections to the U.K. grid from the offshore facilities for up to 20 megawatts of power. Ireland has the most ambitious wave power development goal: 500 megawatts of wave generating capacity by 2020, enough to supply 7 percent of its electricity. 95

 

We project that the 850 gigawatts (850,000 megawatts) of hydroelectric power in operation worldwide in 2006 will expand to 1,350 gigawatts by 2020. According to China’s official projections, 270 gigawatts will be added there, mostly from large dams in the country’s southwest. The remaining 230 gigawatts in our projected growth by 2020 would come from a scattering of large dams still being built in countries like Brazil and Turkey, a large number of small hydro facilities, a fast-growing number of tidal projects (some of them in the multi-gigawatt range), and numerous smaller wave power projects. If the interest in tidal and wave power continues to escalate, the additional capacity from hydro, tidal, and wave by 2020 could easily exceed the 500 gigawatts needed to reach the Plan B goal. 96

 

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