Things just got a whole lot more interesting on the global energy scene. Last month the rumor mill churned out one thought bomb after another on the topic of a return to $100-per-barrel oil prices. That’s good news for oil drillers over the short term, but it’s even better news for renewable energy over the long run. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the newly announced $23 million round of funding from the US Department of Energy, aimed at shepherding in the next generation of innovative marine energy technology.
Why Marine Energy?
CleanTechnica has spilled a lot of ink over the sparkling green future of the wind and solar industries, where costs have been spiraling downwards at a rapid pace.
The situation is a little different for marine energy, by which the Energy Department means wave, tidal, and current technology.
The problem is that marine energy has a lot of catching up to do. Wind and solar have already gone mainstream in the US, and even the nation’s sluggish offshore wind sector is shaking off the dust mice and wading into action.
Meanwhile, new devices that harvest energy from the motion of waves and tides have barely crawled out of the R&D phase.
Come to think of it, floating wind turbine technology is also starting to emerge, and that raises a good question.
With all this competition from other renewables (we haven’t even gotten to geothermal, hydropower dams and bioenergy yet), does the US even need marine energy?
Why Not Marine Energy?
Take a look behind the curtain, and you can see where marine energy fits into the sparkling green future of US power generation. Here’s how DOE presents the issue to potential applicants for the new round of funding:
Marine and hydrokinetic technologies convert the energy of waves, tides, and river and ocean currents into electricity and have the potential to provide millions of Americans with locally sourced, clean, and reliable energy. MHK is also a predictable, forecastable resource with a generation profile complimentary to the seasonal or temporal variations of other resources such as onshore wind and solar, which can enhance its contributions to grid resilience and reliability.
Aside from onshore uses, DOE finds the potential for plenty of applications elsewhere:
MHK technologies also have the potential to provide cost‐effective energy for numerous existing maritime markets, including non‐grid connected or remote coastal areas, ocean‐based sensors, monitoring equipment (for civilian, scientific, industrial, and national security functions), and autonomous vehicle recharging at sea, as well as reducing desalination costs by avoiding the step of generating electricity.
We’ve reached out to DOE for some additional insights, and while we’re waiting for a response, let’s take a look at what the agency says about the new $23 million round of funding.
The idea is to accelerate early stage research aimed at cutting costs and ramping up deployment. The funding announcement also takes environmental review into consideration, as in how to make it go faster and more efficiently.
Undersecretary of Energy Mark Menezes made the announcement and provides a clue as to why the agency is willing to cough up $23 million on high risk, high reward R&D:
Marine energy is the newest frontier where we can unleash American innovation to produce more energy more affordably. Investing in early-stage research and development is critical to our America First energy and economic strategy to provide millions of Americans with domestic, clean, and reliable energy.
DOE hammers home that point, stating that “this funding opportunity furthers the Administration’s goals to drive U.S. leadership in marine energy through research and development that supports industry advancement in wave, tidal, ocean and river current technologies.”
What DOE Wants
Anyways, as befits early stage research, part of the $23 million in funding will go to next-generation systems that are not ready for their commercial closeup, but which can be validated through simulation and modeling. The early-stage testing will be focused on whittling down costs and boosting efficiency.
Another area of interest is power take-off, meaning how are you going to translate the motion of water into an electric current. Progress in that area has already been ramping up, so the funding will go to later stage projects that can be built and tested in real time.
As for environmental review, DOE is looking for this:
This topic area supports efforts to more efficiently synthesize and communicate recent advances in science and understanding regarding potential environmental impacts from marine renewable energy development. Information needs to be widely available in consolidated and organized formats to inform and facilitate federal and state marine energy regulatory processes.
An Ocean’s Worth Of Water Batteries
All of this brings up some interesting issues, in consideration of some of the recent news circulating around renewable energy.
Earlier this week, for example, CleanTechnica took a look at some research indicating that the cost-based deployment of bulk energy storage can lead to more carbon emissions instead of less carbon emissions.
The solution is to deploy energy storage with a more strategic focus on cutting carbon, and in that regard marine energy can be thought of as both a massive energy storage resource as well as a power generator.
Scroll back up this article and recall that DOE describes marine energy as having a “generation profile complimentary to the seasonal or temporal variations of other resources such as onshore wind and solar.”
Another interesting thing to pop up is DOE’s role in attracting investors to the US renewable energy sector.
That role was evident earlier this year, when the agency made a strong case for investing in the US wind industry.
Now marine energy is having its turn. Undersecretary Menezes made that remark about investing in early stage R&D to attendees of the National Hydropower Association’s Waterpower Week, and he wasn’t just talking about taxpayer greenbacks.
DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is also chipping in with an appearance at the Marine Energy Technology Symposium, which is part of the Waterpower Week festivities. Here’s the pitch from a PNNL tweet:
How strong is investor confidence in #waveenergy? Is there wave energy potential? @PNNLab’s Zhaoqing Yang & team are at the METS Poster Session for #waterpowerweek to present an “Analysis of Wave Climates and Resource Characterization in the Nearshore Region of US West Coast.”
We’re guessing the answer is yes.
In the meantime, it looks like the marine energy revolution could be closer than you think. Back in 2015, DOE only had a $2.2 million funding pot to split between winners of its Wave Energy Prize Challenge, and just last year the agency upped the ante to $12 million.
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Image (screenshot): US DOE.