It must strike some as ironic that California is in the epicenter of a debilitating drought. After all, the Golden State is surrounded by one of the largest stretches of water on earth. Yet, without desalination plants, the water is useless.
Saltwater can’t be consumed by humans, and it kills vegetation. Californian environmentalists are understandably wary of embracing desalination plants as a viable solution due to the incredible strain the process puts on the aquatic habitat in the region.
Desalination plants suck in a tremendous amount of seawater, and filter the water until the salt is confined to a large amount of concentrated brine. The brine is then flushed back into the ocean.
This creates a myriad of problems for marine life; sea creatures are killed when the desalination plant sucks in water. Smaller lifeforms are killed when the water is processed, and the fragile oceanic ecosystem is decimated by the sudden release of the brine concentrate.
But answering the water crisis and finding a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels are two problems which might be solved by the emergence of a new, innovative technology: the CETO buoy.
The CETO buoy converts wave energy into zero-emission electricity, and it desalinates water in the process.
The submerged buoys are attached to pump units. As the waves toggle the buoys up and down, the pumps are activated. Pressurized seawater is then pumped through a pipeline installed on the bed of the ocean, and driven via a cable to a hydroelectric power station located on land. The pressurized seawater then drives turbines, and voila! Clean power.
The buoy is stationed deep underwater, so it’s safe from storms or big waves. Rather than destroying marine life, it attracts it. CETO acts as an artificial reef, and the buoy comfortably integrates with the oceanic environment without leaving a footprint.
As water is 800 times denser than air, the energy density of waves outmaneuvers solar and wind in power production — but we need to find the right means to harvest it.
Australia was the first country to openly embrace the usage of CETO buoys, and there are several buoys deployed around Western Australia. France, Canada and the UK are eager to get CETO into their coastal regions, and have dropped millions to be next in line for hydropower.
Should fields of CETO buoys crop up along our coasts, we could potentially find a sustainable solution to provide electricity for some of America’s biggest cities.
Brine output would still be an issue for the desalination unit, but the intake of water would be more environmentally friendly via CETO, and it would negate the use of fossil fuels in the process.
It’s estimated that some 50% of the world’s population lives within 200km of a coastline, meaning we could provide zero-emission water and power to half of humanity.
As of January 2016, the CETO 6 is still in the beta phase. The upgraded buoy is larger, and power is transferred to shore via cable. The new prototype is designed to endure the deeper fathoms of the ocean, and much further offshore.
One thing’s for certain: it’s an exciting leap forward for the industry of hydropower.