Survivability in these ever-turbulent seas, Burns had told me, is the single biggest advantage CETO has over other wave-energy systems. But it’s far from the only one. Unlike designs that generate their power at sea and transmit the electricity to land, CETO simply pumps that high-pressure water to shore. All the complicated, high-maintenance parts of the system are on dry land, where repair is cheaper and easier. There is no oil or polluting lubricant of any kind in the submerged system, he says. He knows they’re getting the materials right because the offshore oil industry has already done all that testing; everything they use will have a proven 30-year life span, the same as that of a typical fossil-fuel-driven power plant. The balloon-like design will allow Burns to mass-produce the 20-foot-tall CETO units at a single large factory and ship them deflated around the world at relatively low cost.
Finally, Burns says, being concealed below the waves allows CETO to dodge the practical and aesthetic criticisms that have derailed other wave (and offshore wind) projects. CETO doesn’t interfere with recreational fishing or sailing. It won’t kill birds or knock out migrating whales. And unlike other systems, it wouldn’t mar the landscape. “You wouldn’t see it,” Burns says. “You wouldn’t even know it was there.”
A single large-scale CETO wave farm right here off Rottnest, Burns tells me, could in theory provide enough electricity to power all of Western Australia. Six months later, Carnegie would announce that its first commercial-scale demonstration plant would in fact be built in Albany, a port city further south. By 2010, construction will begin on a farm of 300 balloons that will ultimately generate 50 megawatts of electricity. That’s enough, the company estimates, to power 30,000 households. The first plant won’t be cheap to build—around $300 million. But once it’s in operation, the ongoing costs will be about the same as those at a wind farm. Future plants will be about the same or cheaper to operate than a traditional power plant. Waves, after all, are free.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.