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Moving Forward: Government, Industry and Climate Change

Aileen Torres-Bennett,
Managing Editor, Sea Technology

Among the themes of this month’s issue is alternative technology, which is undeniably becoming more important in the marketplace as climate change grows into a global concern, coupled with the political will to back projects that encourage the use of alternative energy sources. The ocean industry is a big player in the field with offshore wind, waves and tides as prominent resources. The problem solving continues to be challenging in terms of how to harness the energy technologically and get it to market in a cost-effective way that makes it competitive in price to traditional energy sources.

Europe, already a world leader in ocean renewable energy projects, is pushing for a greater stake in the global market. The European Ocean Energy Association released a position paper recently that advocates for European industrial leadership in ocean energy, specifically wave and tidal, by 2020. It states that current ocean renewable energy projects are fragmented across Europe, and EU-level support is needed to ensure a highly competitive position for Europe in the global marketplace. Direct benefits to the region would include the creation of 26,000 direct EU jobs in 2020 via ocean energy, and potentially 314,000 direct EU jobs in 2050. Ocean energy could also satisfy 15 percent of EU energy demand in 2050 and prevent 136 MT/MWh of carbon dioxide emissions in 2050.

Scotland is a prime example of a country whose government offers hefty support to the ocean renewable energy industry. Back when Sea Technology interviewed Martin McAdam, CEO of Aquamarine Power (Edinburgh, Scotland), which engineers the Oyster wave power technology to capture energy from nearshore waves, for our e-newsletter, he told us about the Saltire Prize and the role of such prizes as a lightning rod for industry. A global prize sponsored by the Scottish government and open to applications until January 2015, the £10 million Saltire purse will go to an individual, team or organization that achieves the greatest volume of electrical output beyond 100 gigawatt-hours over a continuous two-year period using only ocean energy. Complementing the Saltire Prize is the European Marine Energy Centre, based in Orkney, Scotland, which functions as a test facility for wave and tidal energy converters. Aquamarine Power’s Oyster is among the technologies being tested there.

In the U.S., the domestic marine renewable energy industry took a major step forward with the first offshore wind project proposed for federal waters off the West Coast. After President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, BOEM gave approval for Principle Power Inc. (Seattle, Washington) to submit a formal plan to build a 30-megawatt pilot project using floating wind turbine technology offshore Coos Bay, Oregon.

The West Coast has more than 800 gigawatts of wind energy potential offshore, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is three quarters of the U.S.’s power generation capacity. Total U.S. deepwater wind energy resource potential is nearly 2,000 gigawatts.

Principle Power, which received $4 million from the Department of Energy for its advanced technology demonstration project, plans to generate electricity from five floating WindFloat units, each equipped with a 6-megawatt offshore wind turbine and connected to the grid. The facility, at 1,400-foot depth, would be the first in the U.S. to use a floating structure to support offshore wind generation in the Outer Continental Shelf.

At this stage in the game, the marine renewables industry is still in need of government funding to help it develop as a competitor in the energy market. Concomitant with the government-backed birth of the industry is a growing global consciousness of anthropogenic climate change. Although it has its naysayers, evidence continues to mount for climate change resulting from human actions. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called out climate change as potentially being the “most fearsome” weapon in the world. Alternative energy may not be able to stop it, but it can bring about a change that’s not just good for business, but also for the health of the planet.

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