Ocean Power Making Waves

Guest Blog | May 15, 2015 | Energy Policy
The Pelamis wave energy conversion system bobs up and down to generate power.

The Department of Energy recently announced $10.5 million in funding support for new marine hydrokinetic resources. Marine hydrokinetic (MHK) resources are ocean-based renewable energy resources that include waves, currents, tides and even ocean thermal conversion technologies. The federal funds are allocated for research to 1) increase survivability of wave energy generators and 2) reduce installation, operations and maintenance costs for wave and current energy generators.

Survivability of MHK technologies has proven to be tough. One run-of-river project, the Verdant Power project in New York City’s East River, kept having turbine blades break underwater. Other wave energy technologies usually incorporate some floating capability, and have a terrible habit of sinking. While actual, physical survivability has been extremely difficult, financial survivability has also been difficult. One of the best-known wave energy conversion technologies, the European Pelamis “Floating Snake”, has gone into bankruptcy protection.

The list of setbacks for MHK technology is long – but the technology shows promise. Since 50% of America’s population lives in or near ocean coastal zones, MHK resources could deliver huge quantities of clean energy without many transmission line constraints. According to the Department of Energy, “The Department’s latest nationwide wave and tidal energy resource assessments identify up to 1,400 terawatt hours of potential generation per year. One terawatt-hour of electricity is enough to power 85,000 homes, and developing a small fraction of the available wave and tidal energy resource could allow for millions of American homes to be powered with this clean, reliable form of renewable energy.”

And, as mariners know, ocean-based resources also tend to be extremely predictable. Tides and currents rarely deviate from their well-known cycles and that predictability is useful for utility planning. MHK technology can effectively limit the variability or intermittency of a renewable energy resource (the oceans).

Florida Atlantic University is at the forefront of the MHK technology industry. In 2013, Florida Atlantic University received federal approval for installation of its MHK research project off eastern coast of Florida in the Gulf Stream. Assuredly FAU’s work on ocean currents MHK makes it a top contender for the $10.5 million in federal funds.

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