Standing amid his new staff and his new equipment, Burns looks pleased. Both the solar and wing research are building on his own inventions, again with the best brains and processing power money can buy. “There are major advances to be made in all fields of renewable energy,” he says. “Using the same engineering team and the same management team, we can cover the whole lot.”
He doesn’t seem concerned that his technologies may soon be competing against one another. In the fossil-fuel business, he says, no one begrudges someone else’s discovery. “It’s not like, ‘Oh hell, I just found another billion barrels—what’s going to happen to the market?’ The oil business doesn’t think that way at all. They think, terrific. Every bit of oil in the world could be sold, and it’ll be exactly the same with renewable energy. Exactly. The world needs every bit that it can get, no doubt about it.”
Earlier, when Burns learned that I live in California, he turned to his assistant and asked her to print out a news article for me, an account of a recent speech Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had made to United Nations officials about how the clean-energy economy will drive California’s future. “He thinks exactly the same as me,” Burns said, article in hand. “I thought his speech was brilliant. I thought, what a guy! You need leaders to have that sort of positive outlook, rather than just doom and gloom. Don’t go ‘Woe is me, let’s turn the lights off.’ These things are opportunities.”
Most wave-power systems sit on the water’s surface. Not CETO, which is mounted on the ocean floor in 50 to 150 feet of water. Rows upon rows of balloons sway back and forth and up and down in response to the wave motion above. This motion drives a pump just below the balloon that sends high-pressure seawater to shore. From here, the seawater can be diverted to a desalination plant, which requires high pressures to pump saltwater through a series of membranes, or to a power plant. In the power plant, the pressurized water spins a turbine and produces electricity for the grid. Construction on the first commercial-scale farm is set to begin by 2010. When finished, the 300 units should produce 50 megawatts of electricity, or about enough to power 30,000 households.Paul Wootton
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.