Should Our "All of the Above" Energy Strategy Include Ocean Energy?
Note: This blog was originally posted by Ben Finzel on LinkedIn on November 12, 2014.
As President Obama today announced a breakthrough new greenhouse gas emissions reduction deal with China, at least one prominent observer noted that the agreement is a sign of growing confidence in China in “non-fossil” energy sources including renewables. Indeed, China has been ramping up investment in renewables and now plays a significant role in global renewable energy markets.
As it has pursued President Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy, the Obama administration has also provided strong support to a number of different renewable energy technologies.
In October, U.S. Energy Secretary Moniz announced $53 million in funding to “drive innovation” and “cut cost” in solar energy. Solar continues to grow and the recent Solar Power International annual conference served as the launching pad not just for Moniz’s announcement, but for bold new pronouncements from Solar Energy Industries Association chief Rhone Resch on the Solar Investment Tax Credit and Solar Electric Power Association head Julia Hamm on her association’s new 51st State initiative.
Wind energy also continues to garner attention and headlines. The American Wind Energy Association announced last month that “19 wind projects have been completed in America this year, with as much wind generating capacity as in all of 2013.”
Wind and solar are two of the more advanced renewable energy technologies and justifiably garner attention and interest. [Disclosure: I’ve previously worked on communications with both industries.]
Less noticed (despite the $7.25 million in funding from the DOE announced in September and $8 million in U.S. Navy research funding announced in October), but no less interesting, is ocean energy. Comprised of a number of different technologies – wave, tidal, ocean thermal – the ocean energy on the Outer Continental Shelf of the U.S. has the potential to meet one-third of the total annual electricity used in the U.S. (according to an EPRI assessment cited in FierceEnergy).
Ocean energy has had its share of challenges to be sure, as Stephen Lacey reported earlier this year. But those stumbles, while significant, should not mean the end of the line for this promising technology. Numerous renewable energy technologies have experienced similar challenges over the past several decades. With the right federal research and development support (understanding that $15 million in federal funds granted this fall is really little more than a proverbial drop in the ocean) and a continued focus on a genuine “all of the above” energy strategy, ocean energy technology should improve to the point where it can begin to play a more substantive role in the development of America’s renewable energy resources. And it should if we are serious about meeting the challenge of climate change by increasing low- and no-carbon generation options.
Here are three reasons why ocean renewable energy should be part of our "all of the above" energy strategy:
The resource is predictable: waves and tides are constant and we know when high and low tides will occur in advance. Ocean energy does not have the intermittency challenges of wind and solar making it a reliable choice for power generation in a variety of different applications. Although it’s likely that ocean energy will first see greater penetration as a distributed generation technology, as the technology improves and costs come down, this factor could provide a greater benefit for energy planners in considering how best to integrate power from wave energy into the grid.
The technology is improving (even if more slowly than advocates and supporters would like):
Oregon-based start-up M3Wave LLC announced in September the results of a successful test of a submerged wave energy test device off the Oregon coast
Massachusetts-based Resolute Marine Energy recently concluded testing on their wave energy converter in Scotland
The U.S. DOE also recently announced $10 million in funding for “full-scale wave energy device testing” by two companies: Ocean Energy USA of California and Northwest Energy Innovations of Oregon. The funding, which is being coordinated with the U.S. Navy will support a one-year test program for two promising new technologies.
The interest is growing: in addition to the new funding announcements, new efforts in the U.S. are drawing increased attention to the potential and established companies in Europe are announcing new funding and enhanced efforts to promote the technology.
Florida Atlantic University, which hosts the Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center, announced in June that it would install “the world’s first ocean current energy test site” off the coast of Florida
A report from Scottish Renewables in late September estimated that the wave and tidal industry has to date invested more than 217 million British Pounds in the country (and nearly 32 million Pounds in the past twelve months alone).
Atlantis Resources announced in late October that it had raised 5 million British pounds in a public offering to fund continuation of a tidal energy project in Scotland
This progress does not diminish the challenge the industry faces as its growth draws more scrutiny. As we’ve seen with other renewable energy technologies before, promise does not always equal success and potential does not always lead to tangible results. The technology has to work and it must be effective, efficient and (at some point) affordable.
It will be up to the industry (and its investors) to continue to make the necessary initial investments to advance the technology while leveraging developments along the way to build engagement. It will be up to federal and state governments to provide the necessary support and assistance to help the industry move from research and development into commercialization.
If we’re serious about an “all of the above” energy strategy (and I think we should be), we should be supportive of promising renewable energy technologies such as ocean energy that will help us to meet continued demands for power without adding to our greenhouse gas emissions.