Open ocean cages vis-a-vis wind turbine generators


Developing and mass-producing thousands of cages for “open ocean” farming for global food security is reminiscent of the wind energy industry during the early 1980s for America’s energy security.  A 25 percent Federal tax credit, coupled with an additional 25 percent California credit and rapid depreciation fueled a wind energy gold rush.  Approximately 16,000 wind turbine generators representing $1.6 billion in tax-sheltered investments were installed as “Wind Parks”.  In retrospect, rewarding capital investment rather than performance measured by electricity generated into the grid was the flaw in the tax legislation.  Thousands of prototypes were rushed into production and many designs were also inherently flawed.  I was the founder and CEO of a publicly traded company, International Dynergy (IDI) that adopted a unique wind turbine design developed and tested by United Technologies.  The technology was in the public domain since it was funded by the U. S. Department of Energy.  During 1984 and 1985, IDI assembled and deployed over $50 million of these whirling power generators in the San Gorgonio Pass outside Palm Springs, California financed as a series of syndicated tax shelters.  With the largess of the tax credits expiring in 1985, IDI teamed with Sumitomo to scale the 92 KW wind turbine to a more efficient 180 KW machine, which theoretically could economically compete without the tax credits.  However, the cyclic return of cheap traditional fuels dampened investment interest in renewable alternatives and the nascent industry faded away.  The years 2006–2008 saw dramatic increases in world food prices, causing political and economical instability and social unrest in both poor and developed nations.  

In 2008, the Haitian Senate voted to dismiss the Prime Minister after violent food riots hit the country.  Prices for food items such as rice, beans, fruit and condensed milk have gone up 50 percent in Haiti since late 2007 and post-earthquake Port-au-Prince is almost entirely reliant on foreign food aid.  Across the globe, the Pakistan army has been deployed to avoid the seizure of food from fields and warehouses and the new government has been blamed for not managing the countries food stockpiles properly for millions of flood-affected victims.  Between 2006 and 2008 average world prices for rice rose by 217%, wheat by 136%, corn by 125% and soybeans by 107%.  Causes are attributed to structural changes in trade and agricultural production, agricultural price supports and subsidies in developed nations, diversions of food commodities to high input foods and fuel, commodity market speculation, water depletion and climate change.  In response to a looming global food security crisis, the $20 billion “Feed the Future” initiative was launched. President Obama pledged $3.5 billion through 2012, which attracted an additional $18.5 billion pledged by other donor countries.  Meanwhile, cognoscenti claim fish farming is set to become the world's main source of seafood over the next 20 years since the current amount of wild-catch in open seas cannot be increased due to restrictive fishing quotas to protect species.  

Fish farming has grown consistently by 10 percent a year for the past 20 years making it the fastest growing agro-business. It represents the only serious option that can provide enough protein for a burgeoning global population.  “With Earth’s burgeoning human populations to feed, we must turn to the sea with new understanding and new technology,” Cousteau said in his 1973 television show “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.” “We need to farm it as we farm the land.”  Since tropical seas surround most of the nations where the billion people suffering from acute hunger today live, “open ocean” mariculture offers a solution to supplement traditional agriculture.   In my previous blog, “Tropical Salmon”, I write: “there are numerous advantages to farming fish in a high-energy open ocean environment including increased water flow, reduced accumulation of waste products, and decreased reliance on shore-based infrastructure and fewer user conflicts.  Oceans span 70 percent of the Earth’s surface minimizing territorial competition.”  With the ascendancy of open ocean mariculture, a major opportunity is emerging for the mass-production of an affordable and utilitarian submersible cage design since destructive hurricanes and typhoons are unavoidable in tropical regions.  My wind turbine generator experience two decades ago dictates that the cage components must be strong, durable, and already in mass-production for eliminating expensive special tooling and exploiting economies of scale.  Furthermore, the design must be simple for final assembly by low-skilled locals in developing countries.  Moreover, teaming with a major manufacturer to supply the components is critical for credibility and access to capital.  Quoting Yogi Berra: “This is déjà vu all over again”!