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Ocean Energy Update

oceantidalmap.jpgSolar and wind are the twin giants of the renewable energy world. Everybody knows about them, and power generation projects involving photovoltaic or turbine technologies are, relatively speaking, commonplace. But there are other forms of renewable power out there; one we've followed for awhile now is ocean/tidal generation, something we usually call "hydrokinetic power." It's fascinating to watch this technology move from idea to implementation, and today we can see the surest sign that hydrokinetic power is beginning to hit the mainstream: regulation.

In the Ocean Energy Report for 2005 and Renewable Energy Access, Carolyn Elefant and Sean O'Neill of the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition lay out the current state of the ocean power industry. What's notable is that the report says little about innovative new ideas -- instead, it's all about how the companies actually testing new technologies are dealing with government oversight. It's a pleasingly mundane report, filled with detailed looks at the complexities of compliance with federal energy regulations while trying to test out new technologies.

For a better sense of what those new technologies are doing, we can hit the Ocean Energy Web Page at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). A year ago, EPRI released its final report on the potential for ocean and tidal power in the United States, spelling out the potential benefits of deployment of this technology. With its Ocean Energy project, EPRI is now following the evolution of this new power industry. The white paper on ocean energy (PDF) submitted last month to the Western Governors Assocation Clean and Diversified Energy Advisory Committee spells out the technology's benefits:

First, with proper siting, converting ocean wave energy to electricity is believed to be one of the most environmentally benign ways to generate electricity. Second, offshore wave energy offers a way to minimize the aesthetic issues that plague many energy infrastructure projects, from nuclear to coal and to wind generation. Since wave energy conversion devices have a very low profile and are located at a distance from the shore, they are generally not visible. In addition, wave energy is more predicatable than direct solar or wind energy, and therefore can be more easily integrated into the overall electricity grid for providing reliable power.

So what's underway now? According to EPRI, there's currently around 2.3 MW of installed offshore wave energy capacity worldwide, coming from four locations: a 1 megwatt facility at Lexious, Portugal; a 0.75 MW system at Orkney, Scotland; a 0.5 MW generator at Port Kembla, Australia; and a 0.04 MW -- 40 kilowatt -- unit at the naval station in Hawaii. EPRI goes on to argue that, if the states of Hawaii, Oregon and California were to enact policies to stimulate ocean power construction, the US capacity could increase to over 100 MW by 2010, at which point the cost of power will be between 8 and 16 cents per kWhr, "substantially less than the entry point for wind technology when it reached a capacity of 100 MW back in the early 1980s."

The EPRI Ocean Power site includes detailed reports on a variety of wave power and "tidal stream" power projects and siting studies.

Comments (2)


This is interesting stuff! Am a Ugandan and am going to follow this site with keen interest.Hope to contribute some useful information some day.Keep it up.

I was asked to write the ocean energy article as a summary of developments over the past year. Interesting, from an ocean energy perspective, 2005 was not notable for technological advancements as much as it was for strides towards commercialization. We have reached the point where several technologies are ready for deployment; if those don't work out, I expect that we will be reading more about new scientific developments that will take their place.

If you want more information on ocean renewables, check out my weblog at www.renewablesoffshore.blogspot.com


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