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US Taps Into 1400 Terawatt Hours Of Clean Ocean Power

As the US offshore wind power industry slowly (very slowly) cranks up to speed, let’s not forget that US coastal waters also represent a huge, as-yet-untapped energy resource in the form of waves, tides and currents. The Department of Energy estimates the total could come up to 1400 terawatt hours of electricity per year, enough to power millions of homes. The problem is getting the private sector to take the plunge into uncharted technological waters, and to that end DOE has just announced a new round of $16 million funding, including public-private partnerships, to help kick things into gear.

The money will go to 17 projects that cover efficiency improvements in wave and tidal generators as well as data collection and environmental surveys.

More And Better Tidal and Wave Power

Descriptions of the 17 projects are available here, and since the recipients include a couple of companies that CleanTechnica has been following let’s focus on those.

Ocean Renewable Power Company laid claim to launching the first grid-connected commercial tidal energy project in the US last year, called TideGen. The company will get $1.93 million to develop an advanced control system that will predict tidal conditions, with the goal of improving turbine performance when tidal conditions are extremely rough and less than optimal.

The company will get another $3 million to develop advanced components for wave, tidal and current generators, to measure performance, and to assess how these components can be incorporated into existing technology.

Ocean Power Technologies has been working extensively with the US Navy on a buoy-based wave power system called PowerBuoy, and it will get $1 million to redesign the float for the device, as well as its spar (the cylindrical body encapsulating the device). The goal is to improve efficiency and reduce production costs by cutting down on float and spar mass, which together account for about half the total mass of the PowerBuoy.

Speaking of the Navy, though Ocean Renewable Energy can lay claim to the first commercial grid connection for tidal power, it looks like the Navy and Ocean Power nailed wave power grid connection back in 2010, at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, in Oahu.

The Navy has also been ramping up facilities at its existing wave power test bed in Hawaii with the goal of providing an up-to-date shared R&D platform for private sector wave power developers.

More Power, Less Impact

A significant chunk of the new round of funding will go to assess impacts on marine life. The Electric Power Research Institute, for example, will get $300,000 to assess the potential impact of undersea electromagnetic fields  from transmission lines, and the University of Washington will get $400,000 to assess the impact of noise from tidal devices specifically on marine mammals including killer whales, porpoises and seals.

Another notable project comes under Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which will get $95,000 to study the impact of tidal turbines on fish populations, based on the operation of an existing tidal power project in New York City by the company Verdant Power. The goal is to develop assessment tools that can be used at other tidal and riverine sites.

Don’t Forget The Inland Waterways!

This round of funding focuses mainly on wave and tidal power along US coasts, but the Obama Administration has also been looking to tap America’s inland waterways as a significant source of low-impact renewable energy. That includes modifying existing dams to extract more power as well as developing hydrokinetic devices that generate power from ambient currents rather than requiring new dam construction.

To help accelerate the private hydrokinetic sector, the Obama Administration is also funding a new shared research and development facility called RiverSphere at Tulane University in Louisiana.

Yet Another Nail In The Keystone XL Coffin

If there is one dead horse worth beating it’s the notorious Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline proposal, which advocates have touted as an essential job-creating machine even though it will only account for a few dozen permanent positions in the US, virtually none of which involve innovative technology.

Contrast that with all of the current and potential activity surrounding wave, tidal and current energy development in the US, and the job-creating pitch disappears in a puff of smoke.

The pipeline also creates new risks to hundreds of waterways along its route from Canadian tar sands fields to Texas refineries without adding a drop to the domestic energy market (it’s an export project, after all), so in effect US consumers bear all the risk and none of the benefits from this energy project — again, compared to marine and riverine power development, which can tie directly into local grids.

With the US investing billions in both private and public sector dollars for new clean technology designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it’s also worth noting that fossil fuel projects like Keystone essentially nullify those efforts, which the Sierra Club and several other environmental heavy-hitters hope to demonstrate once and for all in a new report on the global warming impact of Keystone.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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