Offshore Technology Opportunities are Limited by Narrow Minded Approaches

Posted on June 20, 2008
Topic: Wind
In recent published articles discussing the tremendous growth in renewable energy development, the reader will have noticed that the offshore wind energy sector has not shown the same trend. In simple explanation the economics have been very difficult to overcome, even with the most ardent enthusiasm. In the United States numerous projects have come forth and gained visibility only to disappear to the shelf after the reality of the cost and complexity of offshore development came out in due diligence reports. What is absolutely needed is a completely new approach, a broader approach, a more holistic approach to the ocean as a unique ecosystem and a deeply challenging environment rather than just another power plant opportunity.

This is where the core focus of our future sustainable infrastructure development lies. In the offshore domain, the support platform for the ocean power technology must also be viewed as a platform of opportunity for additional mission agenda. Before Cape Wind, and every other domestic wind energy project gained the headlines, there was a concept for the evolution of offshore renewable energy into a sustainable marine technology platform being promoted as The Ocean Ranch. The core of this integrated offshore development approach is the common platform which enables the offshore development opportunity to overcome the economic limitations of the sole purpose mission platform agenda. The platform, which acts as an additional venue for the symbiotic development of technology in open ocean aquaculture and offshore renewable energy, also enables the evolution of a critical technology platform for the mitigation of our national fisheries crisis. In this case, the offshore energy platform provides the stable structure, energy and mechanical support for the execution of largely automated open ocean cage culture operations. This will result in not only a much better economic profile for the overall offshore structure, it will also provide a much higher yield for the offshore public lands where the development will occur.

New Outlook Needed

The problem is that the organizations that endeavor to develop the resources are isolated by the outmoded worldview of our existing infrastructure industries. These industries evolved through a focus on segmentation, specialization and isolation as a single mission objective, to supply cheap coal fired energy, to treat wastewater, to provide safe drinking water. This was done in order to develop the technical expertise to accomplish these very specialized tasks. And then, project development the markets evolved as the technology sector provided the base equation for building capacity, once again in pristine isolation. This was ultimately also the methodology of missed opportunity and collateral development potential. Inefficiency in the ultimate resource development concept will also produce a more expensive unit cost. This is now being reflected in the economic feasibility of contemporary offshore technology including aquaculture and particularly offshore wind energy development.

However, if we look at the productivity of land-based wind farms we will see the example of integrated platform utilization all around the world. This is now demonstrated in the development of agricultural land for wind energy. The net result from the land is the multiple resource yield of the given land area -- energy and food. The implications for society are dramatic, this is why the Department of Agriculture provides economic support for renewable energy projects. Now envision a wind farm that has no collateral yield. Why would one not put wind turbines on all agricultural land where there is wind? Or for that matter, why wouldn’t one promote an agricultural use in any applicable wind farm? In the offshore venue the farms have not been created, so what we are doing is creating the fish farm, or ocean ranch including the maximum wind, wave or tidal resource opportunity together. The most exciting part of this concept is that the subset technology venues are essential resource platforms for the future survival of our global society.

Our world fisheries are in desperate straits, non-sustainable practices have taken us to the edge of disaster in the economic extinction of most of the world fish stocks. Here in the United States, our seafood imports are only exceeded by our energy imports in red ink in our international balance of trade. In 2006 we imported 82% of the seafood we consumed, 60% more than just a decade earlier. The most important technology opportunity to deal with this crisis is the adaptation of agricultural practices in the marine environment, or aquaculture. The concept has been around for centuries, utilized in China and Japan for hundreds of years. But the modern aquaculture industry has not been able to grow in the United States due to use conflicts and appropriate concerns about potential environmental impacts or area use conflicts. Yet our federal government has identified the evolution and development of offshore aquaculture as a key component of any future sustainable fisheries plan. In simple fact, the conventional resources have been over-consumed and depleted to the level that the underlying biological sustainable population dynamic is in jeopardy. The resources are related in another way, the ocean pollution and global warming of burning fossil fuels is changing the ocean, and further impacting critical species habitat important to food fish species in significant ways.

Our world energy supplies and resource issues share many of these same issues in their own unique blend of impacts and implications. Our energy use profile has now reached the point where conventional resources are in increasingly scarce supply and the environmental implications and economic costs of contemporary fossil fuel resource supply chain and energy generation have brought forth the need to seek alternative resources. Global warming, pollution and sky high fuel costs are now forcing us to revisit our underlying assumptions. In the venue of potential renewable resource opportunities lies a near unlimited supply bottled up in the ability of the human race to tap into it. This is the single greatest resource that exists on the planet representing 75% of the surface area of the planet which can use the cycle of the tides and the energy of the wind to create opportunity. Tides, waves, currents, temperature differential, salinity differential and offshore wind represent potential areas of promise. To date this potential has been untapped, much like the offshore or ocean based aquaculture fishery opportunity, conventional methodologies and industry myopia have rendered the individual platform focus economically and functionally obsolete and antiquated.

The interesting un-illuminated fact that ties this whole dialog together is that for the open ocean aquaculture to work it will need energy and mechanical systems to operate the largely automated submerged cage culture operations. For the most part the open ocean aquaculture species farming process will be utilizing the natural ocean environment of the existing water column as the resource where seed, grown in land based or floating hatcheries and deployed to the offshore sites to grow out to harvestable size. The offshore energy platform will of course supply the energy for the aquaculture operations and benefit from the value enhancement of shared support systems equipment and manpower.

Our society is in an exciting position as we discuss these issues, we are at the cusp of an essential evolutionary shift toward a more sustainable future. Unfortunately we did not choose this path, we are being forced to take it because our world cannot afford the burden of the non sustainable ways of our human society. Before there was Cape Wind there was the Ocean Ranch, the simple explanation of why the Cape Wind project morphed from the Ocean Ranch, was due to the influence of energy industry interests, confused by the idea of integrated offshore platform development, who chose to instead strip away the aquaculture and develop a power plant.

Today, close to a decade later the truth about the costs and complexities of offshore wind energy are becoming clarified. The cost of offshore wind development is difficult to justify without some additional economic driver. This was the original purpose of the Ocean Ranch. If we begin to postulate the tonnage of seafood possible from properly deployed and operated offshore aquaculture, and the value of an alternative sustainable fisheries resource for our world, we quickly see the logic of the concept. Once this logic has had a chance to sink in perhaps we can go beyond the conventional constraints of our contemporary world view and move our society toward a more sustainable future.

Plans for an Open Ocean Federal Demonstration Project

The most effective way to move forward into the new frontier of offshore sustainable resource development will require a better understanding of the costs and implication of the platform development and deployment. Without, a new formula, we will continue to end up with the same fragmented infrastructure, and true symbiotic value will continue to elude us. It will be wasted due to a single minded approach to our world that we can no longer afford. This is not the task for a single developer or federal agency, this will be the task of a collaborative national research platform agenda to propel our nation into the lead in sustainable offshore territory development. This will occur while also leading our nation towards a more secure future in energy and food resource supplies. Our top two federal trade deficit categories are energy and seafood. To endeavor to address them both in a common initiative representing unlimited potential is the only logical next step. An Ocean Ranch, Open Ocean Federal Demonstration Project is being planned and proposed for the Northeastern United States to provide a venue for the evolution of this concept. The Northeast is the most oil and natural gas dependent region of our nation. The Northeast is also the site where one of our most productive fisheries once existed. The regional economic implications of these major issues, drives the prioritization of the Northeast and the Cape Cod region as a demonstration project site. Once developed this demonstration project will prove the value and implications of these two critically important resource venues.

We are seeking industry leaders from the fisheries and energy sector to share in this critical endeavor and remarkable opportunity, to lead the world toward more sustainable seas. The sophistication and technological depth of this undertaking exceeds the reasonable length of this commentary, however, the enhanced economics of integrated platform deployment will ultimately drive this discussion. The question will remain, will it be the United States that takes the lead now and lead the change or will we follow once again as our world struggles with the reality of a sustainable future with the antiquated tools of a non-sustainable society.

Authored By:
Born May 23, 1953 Cape Cod Hospital, Hyannis, Massachusetts.1990- Present: Founder, The Conservation Consortium, 1 Atlantic Avenue, South Yarmouth, MA 02664, Cape Cod, USA. TCC is a non-profit company dedicated to helping achieve a sustainable future through supporting innovative technology implementation. The company is engaged in the technical development and integration of equipment for alternative resource utilization specifically targeted for non-point source pollution mitigation for coastal zone locations. Ocean Ranch,

Other Posts by: Brian Braginton-Smith

Utility of the Future - March 14, 2016
Ocean Based Renewable Energy - February 09, 2004

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June, 24 2008

**** **** says

The author raises a very interesting possiblity, but one which will have to be carefully investigated and proven to be technically, economically and environmentally sustainable. There are many variables which determine the viability of a farming operation, terrestrial or aquatic. People have had centuries of agronomic experience to build upon on land, but only limited experience offshore (excepting some artisanal applications).

Not all species of ocean fish may adapt to a caged environment that is essentially "hands off". Some areas of the continental shelves are highly productive, but the productivity may be either diffuse, or concentrated in narrow zones such as upwellings. Regardless of which location is chosen for investigation, the question that may be most crucial is whether there is enough natural food drifting through to sustain the species, and numbers, being raised. Top predators like tuna or swordfish have to locate large schools of prey fish to thrive. They may cover large areas to find these concentrations, and have to follow them as they move with the currents and their own food sources. Smaller species may have to follow the plankton as the currents carry it through the oceans. Average productivity over the life of a farmed species may reduce the variability, but how long would the "market cycle" be?

Finally (although probably not comprehensively) the question of whether the best, most acceptable sites for wind energy development (or current-energy development for that matter) are also viable for aquaculture on a large scale must also be considered. Finding relatively biologically barren sites may be more desirable for energy facility siting, and the resources to feed caged fish may not be adequate in such locations.

This does not argue for dismissing the possibility of multiple uses of offshore energy facilities, but that each location and environment would have to be carefully evaluated, and the concept proven by real world pilot testing at existing analogous facilities before serious consideration is justified. People with greater expertise on offshore fisheries and productivity may be able to shed more light on this matter.

June, 25 2008

Brian Braginton-Smith says

Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful comments. The agricultural industry does not depend upon local free range feed resources when raising cattle, hogs etc. They buy feed and provide it to the captive growing livestock. In the aquaculture venue pelletized feed is provided to the cage culture species as well. The key is to not throw the baby out with the bathwater by creating a non-sustainable venue in feeding the stock. Regarding the offshore wind resource, at least here off the Northeast Coast, It's everywhere, so the site selection process should be driven more by potential use conflict issues, human or aqautic species based rather than the wind resource opportunity. Current species successfully cage cultured include Striped Bass, Cod, Flounder, Halibut, Red Drum, Talapia, and a host of other important food fish species. There are even huge floating offshore pens where Tuna are corraled for delivery to market at the optimum time.

Your point about the need to establish the baseline science on the impacts and implications is absolutely the most important point, this is why our federal government needs to facilitate a demonstration project to establish this important venue in a sustainable way.

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