Environment Forum

California looks to catch a wave, of energy

surferBesides surfing, tourism and the ocean views, California may get another benefit from its famed coast: energy.

With shores that stretch for 745 miles along the Pacific Ocean, California could harness more than 37,000 megawatts of ocean power, or enough to supply a fifth of the state’s energy needs, according to the California Energy Commission.

On Friday, California utility Pacific Gas and Electric Co, or PG&E, took a dive in that direction. The company said it signed an agreement with the U.S. Air Force to study a wave energy project near a base and off the coast of northern Santa Barbara County. The utility is also seeking approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC.

The proposed project could harness up to 100 megawatts of electricity from waves in the Pacific. If it is built, devices would convert the wave’s energy into electricity, a submarine cable would bring it to shore, where it would feed into the electrical grid at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Any excess electricity would go to the utility’s electrical grid, which is connected to the base.

California will have to wait a few years, however, to see if wave energy will help the state meet its goal for a third of its energy needs to come from renewable resources by 2020.

Solar power that pays back fast

OK, solar panels are getting cheaper, but can it be possible to get back the $1,000 you invested in home solar in 45 days?

It couldn’t happen where I live, and maybe not where you do, but the owners of a solar electric company say the arithmetic worked for one of their customers. He is a chief executive with a six-bedroom, five-and-a-half bath Spanish-style hillside home in Fremont, California. Fremont is a stone’s throw from Silicon Valley, and home to many high tech firms.

This executive was paying a monthly electric bill of $3,492 on average, according to solar electric firm SunRun. The company was started by two finance experts who came up with their business model while still students at the Stanford Business School.