Renewable energy sources in the U.S. account for about 8.5% of the electricity produced nationwide, 6.5% of which comes from conventional hydropower plants. The total U.S. generation potential of emerging marine renewable energy sources, including wave, tidal, ocean currents and river hydrokinetic power, could provide a significant contribution to the U.S. renewable energy mix. This paper discusses the resource potential for power generation within different geographic regions and addresses current initiatives and barriers to development in the U.S.
Research by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) suggests that the total recoverable resource is equal to about 10% of the present U.S. electricity consumption. While these initial assessments provide a good first order indication of the resource potential, it is important to understand that many factors, such as electrical transmission capabilities, economic viability, environmental concerns and socio-economic considerations, impose additional limits onto these resources that may substantially alter the recoverable resources. Given the present technical, environmental and economic uncertainties, it is important to pursue all of these marine hydrokinetic resources in a sensible and strategic manner.
While the U.S. lags behind Europe in research, development and demonstration (RD&D) activities in the sectors of hydrokinetic energy conversion, interest in the U.S. is emerging: project developers, the states and the federal government are turning their attention to marine renewable technology. For example, the Department of Energy has begun active research in this area with an initial funding level for FY2008 of $10 million, in addition to many state initiatives that are strategically pursuing these emerging generation resources.
Significant technical, economic, environmental and regulatory barriers remain to be addressed in order for this emerging industry to move forward with largescale commercial development. Experience with hydrokinetic energy conversion is thus far limited to a few prototype installations and provides a limited understanding of these issues. As such, it will be critical for the success of this industry to gain a full understanding of potential issues over a project lifecycle. Such understanding can only be gained in a sensible way from developer demonstration projects and early commercial adopters. Both market push (R&D) and market pull mechanisms (financial deployment incentives) will be required to successfully move this technology sector forward and develop the capabilities to sustainably tap into the enormous potential of ocean energy.