City helps Wharf go green

Ross Clark, who works half time as the city of Santa Cruz's climate action coordinator, said the builders of a "Green Wharf'' project would minimize the impact on the environment by using a structure that already exists.

"We have already put this wharf out on the water so why not use it to its full potential and generate electricity? That could be far less damaging than building a new structure designed to generate green renewable energy from the ocean."

Clark applied the same philosophy to the city as a whole.

"We have already developed the city of Santa Cruz and have the urban footprint here so let's put solar panels on roofs before we start putting solar in deserts and natural environments."

The city estimates that the Wharf uses 200,000 to 300,000 kilowatt hours of energy every year although Clark said that the figure is unscientific; the businesses on the Wharf are all metered independently with their own Pacific Gas and Electric Company accounts.

To address this data problem, the team plans to use a technology called

"smart grid integration" to get a much more specific sense of how much energy the Wharf consumes.

The first phase of the project, which was initiated by the Center for Sustainable Energy and Power Systems at UCSC, costs $90,000, including $75,000 in funding from the Center for Information Technology in the Interest of Society [CITRIS] at UCSC, engineering professor Michael Isaacson said.

Clark said the city has provided about $1,500 in seed money for the project and has collaborated on a few grant proposals. He emphasized that the Wharf, aside from potentially generating its own energy, could also become "a test bed for new renewable energy products that will enable researchers to easily evaluate the real potential utility of new products along the coast. The wharf gives researcher's easy access to the ocean without need for boats and offshore moorings which are expensive and make research difficult."

Most funding for the roughly $1 million project would come from the state and federal sources, with help from private donors, Isaacson said.

Isaacson said the Wharf project could inspire other communities to become more energy self-sufficient.

"Right now, people say, 'oh, we want wind so let's go where it's windy, and we want sun so let's go to the desert, but you lose efficiency by putting generators far from where you are delivering the electricity," Isaacson said. "You have tremendous losses along power lines so we are trying to develop renewable energy micro grids which are local so you don't have these efficiency loses."

"Along the California coast, if we were to install wind turbines, it would solve all the state's energy needs," Isaacson said. "But that's never going to happen. In Santa Cruz, neither wind nor solar is optimal but if we combine these things, and also generate some power by harnessing the tide, the whole is going to be greater than the sum of its parts."