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Riding the Wave of Marine Energy Generation

Harnessing the energy of wave and tidal currents to generate electricity is arguably a less risky and more predictable endeavor than wind and solar power, and advanced technology to make marine energy a widespread reality is making strong gains, while new tools for predicting wave power could double marine energy generation. 

Marine energy includes the energy available in wave surfaces and tidal power as well as kinetic energy from large bodies of moving water. This energy is harnessed through the placement of turbines on the ocean floor or seabed to generate electricity.

The massive amount of energy in oceans close to densely populated areas means that marine energy has the potential to become one of the most important sources of renewable energy in the world.

New research also shows that marine energy stands to become a much more viable source of power thanks to a new system that can accurately predict the power of the next wave in order to make the most of the extraction process.

According to a Pike Research report from late June, “marine and hydrokinetic power systems offer one of the most promising areas for renewable energy development. Marine and hydrokinetic resources -- including ocean waves, tidal streams, river flows, ocean currents, and ocean thermal differences -- are abundant, the technology is improving rapidly, and countries that have strong marine resources, such as the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, South Korea, Spain, and Portugal, have committed to supporting the industry.”

In the US, Ocean Power Technologies Inc. (OPTT) is the key player in the marine energy game, specializing in building systems that generate electricity from tidal currents and waves. Ocean Power’s turbines, which they call PowerBuoys, are deployed to the sea bottom where they are tethered to harness the energy of waves and tides to generate power.

On 11 July, the company’s shares jumped 72% after Lockheed Martin announced it would use OPTT’s systems for a 19-megawatt marine-power plant in Australia. The OPTT share of the project is funded by a $68 million grant from Australia’s Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism.

Ocean Power previously deployed one of its wave-energy converters off the Pacific coast for the US Navy. Presently, it is working on a utility-scale system off the coast of Reedsport in Oregon, as well as testing the deployment of its PowerBuoy technology in Scotland. The company also has marine-energy projects underway in Hawaii, Spain and the UK.

Lockheed Martin has also partnered with other companies, including ABB, Bosch & Rexroth and Kawasaki Heavy Industries in the field of marine energy generation. Europe’s marine-energy power houses are E.ON and ScottishPower Renewables, both of whom have partnered with smaller, innovate marine-energy outlets. Australia’s Atlantis Resources Corporation enjoys the support of majority shareholder Morgan Stanley. In Sweden, Vattenfall power is also dabbling in marine energy generation in the North Sea.

Scotland is particularly upbeat about its own marine energy technology future as its bills itself as the Silicon Valley of marine energy. Home to 10% of Europe’s wave power resources and one-quarter of Europe’s offshore wind and tidal resources, there is meat behind its claim. Furthering Scotland’s ambitions is the Energy Technology Partnership, which brings together all 12 of Scotland’s major universities in collaboration with Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Energy Institute.

Scotland is also leading research into and testing of first seabed sonar, an innovation that looks set to be widely applied in the future. First seabed sonar measures the effects on the environment and wildlife of devices used to harness tide and wave energy using sonar technology. For the first time it is being successfully deployed on the seabed. As such, the sonar can produce more comprehensive imaging of the entire acoustic curtain following the tidal flow and the turbine used to generate renewable energy.

This advanced sonar technology is a necessary part of the marine energy equation as the process of creating renewable energy from tidal currents and waves creates turbulence that could affect the environment and wildlife. First seabed sonar will allow planners to more certainty in their operations and determine the best venues. 

Commercialization of marine energy products is still not quite there, but investment potential is sound. Technology challenges are being met at an impressive pace, but financing will require cooperation with large corporations who are sophisticated enough to handle these large-scale projects. The key will be to follow government policy in the coming months to determine the potential for longer-term price support for the industry.

By. Oilprice.com Analysts

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