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Marine and hydrokinetic energy can play a “substantial role” in clean energy options

The marine energy industry is at a relatively early stage of development and maturity when compared to other renewable energy technologies, but the US Department of Energy (DoE) will help speed deployment of the technologies, according to testimony before a federal subcommittee.

The global marine and hydrokinetic energy industry has less than a half-dozen small commercial projects, Jacques Beaudry-Losique told the House Science & Technology Subcommittee on Energy & Environment during his remarks on Marine & Hydrokinetic Energy Technology: Finding the Path to Commercialization. Beaudry-Losique is Deputy Assistant Secretary in DoE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.

There is only one operating marine facility in the United States (a river hydrokinetic project in Minnesota) so much of the work being funded through DoE is focused on evaluating the size, location and specific characteristics of offshore ocean and river energy resources, he explained. The work includes establishing baseline cost, performance and reliability data for a variety of devices, and assessing the environmental impacts associated with various marine and hydrokinetic technologies.

Marine and hydrokinetic energy technologies (including waves, currents of tides, oceans and rivers, and the thermal gradients present in equatorial oceans) have “significant potential to contribute to the nation’s future supply of clean, cost-effective renewable energy. energy,” and DoE is “committed to evaluating the realistic potential of the various resources and energy generation technologies, and focussing efforts in the most efficient and effective areas.”

In a 2007 assessment of waterpower potential, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) indicated that marine and hydrokinetic power (excluding ocean thermal) could provide 23 GW of capacity by 2025 and 100 GW by 2050. In a 2009 study, EPRI and other groups concluded that resources could conservatively yield a total of 51 GW of extractable energy, equivalent to 34 coal-fired power plants.

DoE is developing predictive cost and performance models to assess the near- and mid-term economic potential for developing marine and hydrokinetic resources, Beaudry-Losique told the congressmen. “Wave energy currently represents the largest sector of the marine and hydrokinetic industry both nationally and globally; the US has experienced significant growth in the number of wave technology developers in the last decade, and there are now more than a dozen operating throughout the country, with the majority developing point absorber technologies.”

Recent industry studies indicate the potential from ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) resources may be 3-5 TW for global capacity, although he emphasised that these estimates are of technical potential which do not equate to economically-recoverable energy.

DoE currently is funding five separate resource assessments to quantify potential technically extractable marine and hydrokinetic energy by resource type and location, and the work includes assessments for wave, tidal, ocean current, river current and OTEC potential. “The data generated by these projects will help stakeholders assess the potential contribution to the US renewable energy portfolio and prioritize the level of investment for each resource type,” he explained.

Two assessments (wave and tidal) are scheduled to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2010; the other three assessments of marine and hydrokinetic technologies were awarded in September and are still in the process of negotiating contracts for data collection, although DoE wants all three assessments completed within one calendar year of project initiation.

DoE is working to understand the environmental and navigational impacts of marine energy technologies, and to find ways to mitigate any adverse impacts. It is also conducting targeted research into the impacts of marine technologies on ocean habitats and individual wildlife populations, including fish and marine mammals, which includes studies how different types of hydrokinetic turbines can harm or change the behavior of fish, the impacts of extracting energy from an ocean system on sedimentation rates, and tests marine mammal acoustic-deterrent system at an open water location.

“Although certain marine and hydrokinetic energy devices have been developed and deployed as pilot-scale demonstration projects, very few have operated continually for significant periods of time,” he said. “As a result, the efficiency, reliability, survivability, and cost of the various devices types are not well quantified.”

DoE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy has allocated “a substantial portion” of its congressional appropriation toward the support of marine projects, with US$9 million in the last fiscal year and US$31m in the current fiscal year to support projects. During those two years, DoE awarded US$5.8m to five separate projects focused specifically on wave energy development and US$4.5m to 6 tidal energy-specific projects, as well as US$1.9m to three ocean-current projects and US$2.6m for four projects in OTEC.

“DoE has made key investments in this nascent industry and will continue to do so,” Beaudry-Losique concluded. “DoE’s continued involvement will help speed the deployment of these technologies, just as the Department’s commitment to wind energy has helped that industry to rapidly develop in recent years.”

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Energy infrastructure  •  Other marine energy and hydropower  •  Wave and tidal energy