Harnessing Bay's Underwater Energy

Underwater gizmos at Ocean Beach could power 30,000 homes.

By Matt Baume
|  Tuesday, Aug 24, 2010  |  Updated 12:30 PM PDT
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An aerial shot of Land's End, Sutro Baths, Ocean Beach and the Cliff House in San Francisco. Photo: Jill Claridy on Flickr

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With the Outer Sunset hardly ever emerging from fog, solar power wasn't a winning proposition. But it turns out wind and tidal power may be the wave of the future.

Underwater tidal devices, placed offshore beyond Ocean Beach, may someday harness the power of the sea to generate the city's electricity. Inspired by the swishy movement of kelp, the devices are like wind turbines fed by water currents. Estimates by the city indicate that the could provide enough electricity to power 30,000 homes.


Currently, further study is being conducted to determine how sediment moves and to make sure they won't interfere with whale migration. It's a little unclear how jurisdiction over the project might be shared. The federal Mineral Management Services usually controls projects such as these, but the offshore oil drilling disaster in the Gulf has left the agency in a state of paralyzing reorganization.

Renewable energy projects can be a sore spot around the Bay Area. A windmill turbine in Miraloma Park earned the ire of neighbors, who worried that his power-generator would make noise, would look ugly, and could fall over. At the time, Mayor Newsom's Sustainability Advisor Johanna Partin said, "We need to find ways to install renewable energy systems like wind turbines in ways that work for people and the environment."

And those ocean-bound generators might do just that: working for the environment by generating clean energy, and working for people by keeping out of sight.

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