Friday, June 26, 2009
The Electric Wave
Catching a Wave, Powering an Electrical Grid?
Electrical engineer Annette von Jouanne is pioneering an ingenious way to generate clean, renewable electricity from the sea
By Elizabeth Rusch
Smithsonian magazine, July 2009
She was in the water when the epiphany struck. Of course, Annette von Jouanne was always in the water, swimming in lakes and pools as she was growing up around Seattle, and swimming distance freestyle competitively in high-school and college meets. There's even an exercise pool in her basement, where she and her husband (a former Olympic swimmer for Portugal) and their three kids have spent a great deal of time...swimming.
But in December 1995 she was bodysurfing in Hawaii over the holidays. She'd just begun working as an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Oregon State University. She was 26 years old and eager to make a difference—to find or improve upon a useful source of energy, preferably one that wasn't scarce or fleeting or unpredictable or dirty. The sun was going down. The wind was dying. She was bobbing in the swells.
"As the sun set, it hit me: I could ride waves all day and all night, all year long," says von Jouanne. "Wave power is always there. It never stops. I began thinking that there's got to be a way to harness all the energy of an ocean swell, in a practical and efficient way, in a responsible way."
Today, von Jouanne is one of the driving forces in the fast-growing field of wave energy—as well as its leading proponent. She will explain to anyone who will listen that unlike wind and solar power, wave energy is always available. Even when the ocean seems calm, swells are moving water up and down sufficiently to generate electricity. And an apparatus to generate kilowatts of power from a wave can be much smaller than what's needed to harness kilowatts from wind or sunshine because water is dense and the energy it imparts is concentrated.
By Elizabeth Rusch, Smithsonian, July 2009
Posted by Richard Wottrich at 4:55 PM