The Department of Energy (DOE) announced last week that it will commit $16 million toward 17 projects to capture energy from waves, tides and currents. In a press release, DOE stated that the commitment is “part of the Obama Administration’s all-of-the-above strategy to deploy every available source of American energy.” Although DOE’s committed funds are relatively modest, they may spur the growth of a largely untapped but potentially significant clean source of domestic power.
Wave and tidal, or hydrokinetic, energy, a renewable fuel source, may be captured where large volumes of water are moved (e.g., changing tides and currents). According to DOE, development of this resource may supply clean and reliable power to millions of homes, including in many coastal U.S. cities with high power demands. DOE’s latest assessments found that wave and tidal energy could potentially generate up to 1,400 terawatt hours (or 1.4 billion megawatt hours) annually. (One terawatt hour would be sufficient to power 85,000 homes.)
A hint of government support for hydrokinetic energy production first arose in 2009, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) entered into a memorandum of understanding addressing their respective jurisdiction over hydrokinetic projects on the Outer Continental Shelf. In January 2012, FERC issued its first pilot project license for a hydrokinetic project, which will generate power from the tidal flow of the East River in New York. In August of this year, BOEM issued a Finding of No Significant Impact with respect to a proposed hydrokinetic power project off the Florida coast, giving the go-ahead for the first such BOEM-leased project.
DOE’s commitment consists of $13.5 million for eight projects to assist American companies with building wave and tidal devices to reduce production costs and maximize the harnessed energy. These projects “will develop new drivetrain, generator and structural components as well as develop software that predicts ocean conditions and adjusts device settings accordingly to optimize power production,” according to DOE’s press release. Additionally, DOE will provide $2.4 million to nine projects “that will gather and analyze environmental data from wave and tidal projects as well as potential development zones” to proactively handle environmental impacts and promote efficient development.