Renewable Ocean Power- the parable of the seven seas

Wave energy conversion, tidal energy conversion, otec, salinity gradient, and current energy conversion are promising alternative power technologies affording marine energy and environmental security.

Renewable ocean energy developers are required to engage difficult, complex problems, and find support for new ideas and approaches derived from what is known or not known. How will this nascent industry garner resources and establish an installed base, and a successful track record, in the face of heavy, established competition?

The united states' coastline stretches for approximately 158,000 kilometers (93,600 miles), bounding valuable and heavily used areas in the nation. Concurrently, fragile shoreline areas are becoming increasingly stressed and unstable, subjected to dredging and sand replacement as they erode, amounting to over a quarter billion dollars annually.

Water sources for drinking supply and irrigation are becoming increasingly inadequate for many developed areas. Hard-pressed municipalities are building gas-stoked desalination plants and damming waterways to meet the demands of the day. A growing population in the world's largest economy changes diet preferences from meat to seafood, subsequently wreaking havoc and destruction in the wild fisheries, and makes seafood the second largest trade deficit in the world.

Meanwhile, on over 70% of the planet's surface, waves batter coasts 24 hours a day, and tides cycle global warming and cooling throughout centuries and millennia. There is abundant opportunity for anyone and everyone to influence the direction of the global ecosystem and consumption of internal resources.


"the oceans cover a little more than 70 percent of the earth's surface. this makes them the world's largest solar energy collector and energy storage system.

according to the world energy council, the global energy available from wave energy conversion is 2 twh/yr. tapping just 0.2 percent of this energy would satisfy the current global demand for electricity." - anthony t. jones, ph.d.

Civilization can be tied to, indeed equated with, energy utilization. the ocean is the last great, untapped energy reserve. america consumes nearly a quarter of the world power supply, the majority of it in fossil fuels, annually. Fossil fuels use is responsible for emissions of greenhouse gases that many scientists blame for causing global warming.

Ocean renewable energy (waves, tides, currents, saline and thermal gradient) is an alternative energy source, like wind, solar, hydro and geothermal energies. there are over a thousand patents for wave and tidal energy devices, worldwide, but the installed base for modern, commercial technology systems, although growing, is still small.

In the us, ocean energy is overlooked as a renewable- so it is not eligible for government grants and funding on a par with other alternatives such as solar, biomass, and wind. The us energy department dissolved its ocean-power programs in the late 1980s.

A federal assessment concluded that the technology's potential was too small to play any significant role in the nation's total energy needs. At that time, officials felt that fossil fuels were the country's best bet for gross energy production.

Comparatively immature as a modern industry, less than 40 years old, ocean energy is recognized as a desirable technology in most industrialized countries around the world. technological advances in europe, canada, and other areas where ocean energy investigation has continued with governmental support, have kept the cost of harvesting ocean energy on a steady downturn, consistently in line with other renewables such as wind and solar.

Highly competitive costs of $.02-$.05 cents per kilowatt-hour are achievable in the very near term with adequate funding for research, test, demonstration and commercialization.

Fossil fuels

the american council for an energy-efficient economy recently released a scorecard outlining the recent findings. The united states continues to fall behind its industrialized allies in controlling carbon emissions, according to a recent european union report. while eu countries' carbon emissions fell from 1990 to 2000, u.s. emissions rose 14 percent. Carbon is believed to be one of the primary causes of global warming and makes up a high percentage of air pollution in the united states.

There are significant problems with using fossil fuels: fossil fuels are a finite, nonrenewable resource fossil fuels entail a recurring cost of fuel there is significant organized resistance to the air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels economic conditions have encouraged the us to import ever-growing amounts of crude and refined oil, which has homeland security implications.

Appropriate and sufficient alternatives to fossil fuels are not available at this time. Demand for electric power

currently, america has 750gw of installed electric power generation. Te u.s. department of energy estimates the demand for additional power will increase 52% over the next 20 years to reach an excess of 1,100gw. although not all of this new demand will be for distributed power, 81% is expected to be fueled by non-petroleum burning facilities. The u.s. department of energy has estimated this increase to represent a $17 billion per year industry.

Electricity generated by large-scale coal burning power plants average slightly above 2 cents per kilowatt-hour. Combined-cycle natural gas turbine technology, the primary source of new electric power capacity is about 3 cents per kilowatt hour or higher. It is not unusual to average costs of 5 cents per kilowatt-hour and up for municipal utility districts. Current nuclear fuel cost information puts it slightly below coal- but does not take into account remediation or long-term cost for storage of spent fuel rods.

Renewable energy sources have no fuel costs- so the cost is in facilities construction and maintenance as well as land space and access.

To date, the best wave generator technology in place in the united kingdom is producing energy at an average projected assessed cost of 7.5 cents kwh.

It has been estimated that improving technology and economies of scale will allow wave generators to produce electricity at a cost comparable to wind-driven turbines, which produce energy at about 4.5 cents kwh.


some areas have sufficient sunlight year round, some have adequate wind or geothermal energy. in ocean energy this is also true. Tidal heads and currents, like rivers, are site-specific. wave energy is best on the west coasts of continents and in extreme latitudes.

Ocean thermal energy conversion (otec), depends on a 40-degree temperature differential, and is best where extremes of heat and cold are closest- e.g. tropical regions close to deep, slightly above-freezing water. Adequacy of sun and wind vary hourly and daily, unlike ocean energy. because water is 850 denser than air, ocean currents are much more powerful than the wind. Nonetheless, sun, wind, tides and waves cannot be controlled to provide directly either continuous base-load power or peak-load power when it is needed. Therefore building capacity and management for distribution and large amounts of storage are key in renewable energy strategy.

Siting and the environment

the growing common problem with any energy solution is where to site it. Land access is expensive, geography becomes increasingly difficult to find- and there is often a strong sentiment of nimby (not in my backyard). Offshore ocean energy collection facilities do not have to compete for expensive land or nimby issues, and could in some cases make use of existing power distribution infrastructure.

California possesses a massive resource- in excess of 40gw annual average power which is dissipated on the coasts of california. Various wave power concepts are currently being developed in europe, australia, japan and india. bc hydro in canada recently ran a commercial tender for 4mw-wave power demonstration. Their goal is to install 100mw of wave power to provide power to vancouver island. (offshore this would require about 4 square kilometers of ocean surface, in comparison an equivalent onshore wind farm would require about 16 square kilometers of land).

predicted opening costs are around $1500/kw installed capacity- with cost of electricity around $.08-$.12 cents kwh, depending on resource.."- max carcas, ocean power delivery, ltd.

Mile for mile, various forms of ocean-based energy harvesting can be significantly less environmentally and socially obtrusive than other renewable forms of energy, and potentially more cost efficient.

Economic benefits

there are number of economic benefits.

expanding energy networks to include ocean energy:

Improves energy and environmental security for our country

Reduces shortages/brownouts in specific geographical locations

Provides a broader diversity of renewable energy available to the consumer

Stimulates coastal area economies by providing a sufficiency and even a surplus of power which can then be resold to communities when and where they are experiencing deficit

Fosters development of additional local industrial uses for inexpensive energy

Enhances direct opportunities for developing an ocean energy industry as well as indirect opportunities for new business development in the local geographic region.- i.e. jobs

Adequate energy and electricity, particularly in geographically isolated locations:

Provides infrastructure for a clean water supply (pump, filter, and purify) and sewage system

Extends and develops electronic communications and cultural relay systems.

Supports all elements of the food delivery system: irrigation, transport, manufacturing , packaging, refrigeration, and waste disposal

What are the seven seas?

to the ancients, "seven" often meant "many," and before the fifteenth century, the many seas of the world were:

1. the red sea

2. the mediterranean sea

3. the persian gulf

4. the black sea

5. the adriatic sea

6. the caspian sea

7. the indian ocean

today, the contiguous world ocean is generally divided into four main oceans:

1. the pacific ocean

2. the arctic ocean

3. the atlantic ocean

4. the indian ocean

in addition, there are numerous smaller seas and gulfs.

The parable of the seven seas

in the conceptual development process, many factors must be addressed and resolved for a successful implementation. challenges, problems and opportunities arise from diverse and unpredictable areas and disciplines.

Innovative breakthroughs are made at the expanding network's weakest links. adaptations demand dynamic mechanisms to manifest align and realign themselves. Classification methodology is essential to be able to identify complex systems, recognize functional capabilities and develop a context in which strengths and weaknesses can be evaluated.

Here are seven factors, or "classes", that have been identified for ocean energy commercialization:

1. the world as it is- including the problem and the proposed resolution

2. available technology

3. political will

4. social support

5. solution implementation

6. evaluation

7. reoptimization

These seven factors, our "seven seas", are connected and interdependent. although one may more easily conceive of them on a sequential, linear basis, each factor has an impact on the others, creating a very dynamic system. In order to be managed, all must be navigated, mapped and measured according to accepted standards.

once each factor has been measured, it will then be perceived that some factors can be pooled together, thereby creating a more simple and broader vision.

Encountering technology phase shift

connectivity to the grid could be renewable energy's ultimate goal, but it might not be the catalyst that ocean energy needs to gain a significant industry foothold. a "silver bullet" catalyst is necessary to increase the number of installed bases, so that a technical and economic track record can be established.

It is possible that the generation of low cost electricity could be incidental to other marine problems and solutions that ocean energy harvesting might address effectively. In essence, the desired silver bullet could root its foundations in complementary uses and positive externalities associated with ocean energy production.

The united states' coastline stretches for approximately 158,000 kilometers (93,600 miles), bounding the most valuable and heavily used areas in the nation. Concurrently, fragile shoreline areas are becoming increasingly stressed and unstable, subjected to dredging and sand replacement as they erode, amounting to over a quarter billion dollars annually.

water sources for drinking supply and irrigation are becoming increasingly inadequate for many developed areas. Hard-pressed municipalities are building gas-stoked desalination plants and damming waterways to meet the demands of the day. A growing population in the world's largest economy changes diet preferences from meat to seafood, subsequently wreaking havoc and destruction in the wild fisheries, and makes seafood the second largest trade deficit in the world.

Meanwhile, on over 70% of the planet's surface, waves batter coasts 24 hours a day, and tides cycle global warming and cooling throughout centuries and millennia.

Marine products, services and customers are constantly influenced and impinged upon by the public's perception of ocean energy.

The exciting news about renewable ocean energy is not only can it be converted and connected to the grid for electricity but that it is directly available to power desalinization, offshore and near shore aquaculture facilities, and replenish fuel cells and metal hydride batteries.

The number one tourism destination, world wide, is the beach. When used in conjunction with breakwater technology-removing energy from waves help in shoreline stabilization and stopping sand erosion. surfing beaches may be developed through technology phase shift.

Commercialization obstacles

It is clear that wind and solar technologies have achieved a significant level of commercial success and r&d funding in comparison to ocean energy technologies.

Comparatively few ocean energy devices have been successfully deployed worldwide. fewer than 3 megawatts of wave energy are connected to commercial grids, although there are a number of commercial tidal installations. One 240mw tidal facility in la rance, france has been in place for over 35 years. buoys dependent on wave energy for whistling and lighting have been widely and extensively used since the turn of the last century.

In demonstrations and tests, there have clearly been a number of problems with conversion devices. among the problems encountered are biofouling, survivability in ocean environment, proper anchoring, energy conversion efficiency, navigation hazards, high maintenance requirements, environmental damage, aesthetic issues, transmission of power or working fluid and cost of siting devices in the ocean to name a few. Asurvey of one hundred international experts and developers was recently initiated to better direct the efforts of those who are seeking to find solutions to the primary obstacles involved with commercialization.

The results from the first leg of the survey are in, with just under a 40% rate of response. we found consensus that crosses tech bounds, like eagerness to push commercialization and get functional systems in place instead of creating more patents for devices.

summary is provided below.

1. current situation:

much more than in the past, now is the moment to begin commercialization of ocean energy technology

2. problems with available tech:

ocean energy has its own unique challenges. it has had false technical starts. construction costs can be too high for wave energy, required to be able to resist the worst storms. the turbines and moorings also have problems. submerging in-place working systems and placing them on the sea floor is new technology. there needs to be a greater focus on technology that will compare the different ocean energy technology applications. some technology gaps in the employment of ocean energy systems can be transferred from other industries, especially the present offshore industry. nonetheless, reliable "slow" generator technologies for addressing high volume low-pressure conversion to electricity need to be evolved. there is a need to focus on the technology of building systems, not refining devices.

3. problems with political motivation: there is a need gain the government subsidy required for ocean energy technology to attract outside investors. the heavy lobbying for existing renewables and fossil fuel based power generation overshadows any attempts to gain political support. there is a great amount of government skepticism towards the economic and technological viability of ocean energy technologies due to poor performance in the past. in order for ocean energy technologies to gain a foot hold, there must be some sort of political backing, even if at a more local level.

4. problems with social support: public skepticism towards ocean based technology detracts from its ability to attract investors. there is a need for greater public awareness about ocean energy. there are contradictions from the public concerning sentiment on clean energy, economic policy, and aesthetics.

5. problems within industry: the present industry attempts to gain funding for and implement systems that are too large. the industry in a sense does not really exist. there is not enough focus from the industry in the compilation of systems for the utilization of the present technology, and too much focus on the ocean energy technology itself, i.e. the large number of patents. the industry needs to gain a political voice, and investor confidence. there is a great need for the construction of actual working systems.

6. problems with evaluation: evaluation of the different technologies comes from too green of a perspective. there is a relatively small installed base and technical track record. evaluation methods need to be able to compare the different technologies with a standardized set of tests. evaluation needs to focus more on commercial viability. evaluation of projects must address maintenance issues such as biofouling, as these types of issues relate to the economic reality of a project.

7. solution: create a vision for how ocean energy can compete with and complement other renewables. identify specific areas of ocean management (desalinization, shoreline stabilization, fuel cell and battery provisioning, ocean observatories and climate change) to achieve industry foundation. attain government support, which will, in turn, attract investment. establish detailed costing, evaluation and impact methodologies. attract existing offshore industry to ocean based energies. educate public to enable them as discriminative utility consumers. establish an industry research library, best practices, standards and knowledge bases. focus energies towards business sphere to create operational systems.


The natural monopoly thesis and the notion that producing electricity is a purely technical matter are powerful ideas that die hard. in a mature well-defined field or industry, the principle of kiss appeals (keep it simple, stupid!). Build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. nonetheless, in nascent and growth industries, such as ocean energy, technology cannot turn the tide of popular acceptance by itself. It is incumbent upon participants to develop a theoretical model/roadmap for new fields of endeavor requiring multidisciplinary experience and interdisciplinary support. It is not only important to identify and draw upon commercialization resources for internal development, but to identify and refine approaches for competing with a diversity of larger existing solutions. We must find and gain acceptance for the complementarity and uniqueness of our own solutions.

Ocean energy management can provide the grid with clean electricity; what else can it do?

Ann Marie Harmony executive director, ceo Practical Ocean Energy Management Systems, inc.