The potential of marine energy in the fight against climate change is receiving a significant boost. With 70% of the earth’s surface covered by oceans, the power of waves and tides could become one of our greatest energy resources. Scientists and engineers have dreamed for decades of finding ways to harness a fraction of this immense energy. Finally, in this age of climate awareness and concern, we are beginning to pay more attention to this possibility.
An Ocean Action Plan for Climate
The recently announced Biden administration’s Ocean Action Plan reveals how the oceans offer significant potential for renewable energy, both through offshore wind power and other less-explored sources such as waves, tides, and ocean currents. Even the cold waters found in the depths of tropical seas could provide clean marine energy.
The PacWave Case: Transforming Waves into Electricity
One of the most prominent projects in the field of wave energy is PacWave, located on the Oregon coast. It is an experimental offshore test bed whose objective is to develop and demonstrate new technologies to convert wave energy into electricity on dry land. Construction on this project is nearing completion, with 7 miles of pipeline being installed under the Pacific Ocean floor using pioneering horizontal drilling techniques. Once fully operational, PacWave is expected to be able to generate up to 20 megawatts, enough to power several thousand homes.
The Great Promise of Wave Energy
Wave power has significant potential to become a major source of renewable electricity. However, there are still challenges to overcome. Although the waves are constant, they are not identical, which poses a key challenge in designing machines capable of capturing their energy. Different approaches are being explored, such as devices that glide on top of waves, those that convert the pressure of waves on the seabed into energy, or devices known as oscillating water columns, which compress air as waves move. waves pass through them, turning a turbine and generating power.
The Ocean Thermal Energy Potential (OTEC)
In addition to wave energy, another form of marine energy that is gaining interest is ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC). This technology takes advantage of the temperature differences between the deep and surface waters of the ocean to generate electricity. Although the OTEC was pioneered in the 1970s, it has not been widely adopted. However, climate change has fueled a renewed interest in this technology, which could be especially suitable for islands like Puerto Rico, Guam, and small nations in the South Pacific. New government commitments and technological advances are expected to accelerate their development and adoption.
Tidal and Current Energy: Predictable and Reliable
Tidal power is another form of marine energy that has reached a higher degree of development. By placing turbines in strategic locations where tidal flow is rapid, electricity can be generated reliably and predictably. Although tidal has more limited potential in terms of geographic locations, where it is feasible, it is a highly reliable form of renewable energy.
Challenges and Considerations
While marine energy offers tremendous potential as a renewable energy source, it also poses challenges and considerations. One of the main challenges is the uncertainty, since it has not yet been implemented on a large scale, which leads to the question of what the environmental and social impacts of marine energy infrastructure will be. In addition, it is necessary to ensure that any negative impacts on marine life, the environment, local populations and the fishing industries are minimized.
Marine energy is seen as a promising frontier for renewable energy. Although there are still technical challenges and environmental considerations to address, advancement in technology and growing awareness of climate change are driving the exploration and development of marine energy resources. The energy from waves, tides, ocean currents, and ocean thermal energy have significant potential to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and mitigate the effects of climate change. By accelerating the implementation of marine technologies, we can pave the way to a sustainable future and demonstrate our commitment to a cleaner, healthier planet.