Acing Marine Power – The Final Renewable Energy Frontier

It is well to be noted that for decades, scientists as well as engineers have looked to the vast oceans and dreamed of ways to extract a small fraction of that energy. In a scenario of climate awareness as well as anxiety, finding ways to do that happens to be finally getting more attention.

The Ocean Climate Action Plan from the Biden administration goes on to reveal how the ocean holds significant potential for renewable energy, both in terms of offshore wind power and less-explored sources like waves, tides, and currents. Even chillier waters that happen to be deep below tropical seas could go on to provide clean marine energy.

The plan happens to acknowledge an ambitious endeavor that is nearing completion off the coast of Oregon, wherein 7 miles of conduit were laid under the floor of the Pacific Ocean by way of making use of pioneering horizontal drilling techniques. Soon, there will be thick cables running via that conduit in order to connect mainland to PacWave, which happens to be an offshore experimental testbed that has been built so as to create as well as demonstrate certain new technology that goes on to convert power of waves into onshore electricity.

According to a senior scientist with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Levi Kilcher, he gets really excited about the wave energy since the resource happens to be so large.

It is well to be noted that Kilcher happened to be a lead author on the 2021 NREL report that went on to compile the available data when it comes to marine energy sources in the US, such as waves, tides, and ocean currents. The team went on to find that the overall energy potential happens to be more than half- 57% of the electricity that has been generated in the US in a single year.

The fact is that one is trying to tune the technological approach so that advantage can be taken from these shifting kinds of waves, opines one of the senior researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Andrea Copping.

Power coming from the depths

Waves happen to be just one potential source when it comes to marine energy that scientists as well as officials are investigating.

Copping goes on to say that there indeed happens to be a renewed interest when it comes to another form of marine energy, and that’s ocean thermal energy conversion- OTEC, which happens to involve bringing up colder water from the deeper parts of the ocean. This chilly flow then happens to go through a heat exchange process along with warmer surface water, which is similar to the way home heat pumps go on to exchange hot and cold air. That process pushes a turbine to generate electricity.

There is indeed a real interest, and they really think it is indeed going to go this time, said Copping.

It is worth noting that a small OTEC plant has also been functioning in Hawaii for years. Copping happens to believe that new commitments from the US government indeed go on to hold promise for the future of technology.

Going along with the flow

Much of the coastline across the US, such as Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and the rocky shores of Maine, happen to have climates where there is a little chance of finding surface water warm for OTEC. Fortunately, some of such spots are indeed optimal for generating power from a source that depends on shallower water, and that’s tides.

As far as converting the ocean’s movements into electricity is concerned, tidal energy technology happens to be the most developed, and it is about as simple as putting the right turbine in the right place within the water. A number of tidal-power projects have been deployed already in Europe and elsewhere, and of course within niche applications around the world.

The fact is that waves can be anywhere and everywhere in the world, but they happen to be hard to predict. Tides happen to be a mostly known quantity and are also global, but their power potential is indeed restricted to a few very specific places. The fast flows that are needed to generate power happen to be typically only found within narrow channels or between islands as well as the mainland. However, where tidal energy works, it is indeed a very reliable form of renewable energy.

As per Kilcher, one thing that makes tidal energy specifically attractive is the fact that it’s 100% predictable.

Some smaller experiments are run with other constant characteristics of oceans besides tides, such as their major, slow-moving currents. Kilcher went on to note that research is underway off the coast of the southeastern US so as to examine how much power can be pulled out of currents prior to impacting heat circulation patterns within the North Atlantic.

So far, effectively pulling power from the ocean has less to do with water as compared to the air above it. Offshore wind energy happens to be by far the most productive source of power that gets transferred from the ocean to land.

According to the director of the Pacific Marine Energy Center at Oregon State University, Bryson Robertson, offshore wind happens to be the most mature technology without a doubt, and they have been working on wind energy systems since the birth of civilization.

A challenging environment

Unlike developing a new mobile application or even a mobile phone, building the infrastructure so as to pull power from one of the most inhospitable as well as untamed environments on Earth can be a slow, difficult process.

As per Copping, they know less about such kinds of tidal raises, these big wave areas since they happen to stay out of them, and that’s one of the reasons this is kind of taking time. But as one looks at the ocean, it is quite hard not to witness the energy potential.

There are also a number of various considerations, such as the impacts marine energy infrastructure could have on wildlife, the broader environment, local populations, fishing, and other industries.

The biggest issue, as per Robertson, is uncertainty and that they have not done this at scale before; hence, what are the environmental impacts going to be?

He adds that the policy process may be slow for good reasons, but the requirement for marine energy still happens to be urgent.

They need to find a way to roll out technology faster while at the same time being cognizant of the environment. Robertoson says that they just need to find a way to speed up this process if they are going to have a measurable effect when it comes to climate change.