The ocean holds the potential to provide reliable energy to meet the growing demand for clean electricity, renewable fuels, and energy critical materials.
The ocean is an immense and underutilized resource. This resource has the potential to generate 1,250 to 1,850 terawatt-hours of electricity from river currents and the ocean’s wave, current, and tidal energy.
Energy from the ocean, or marine energy, is harvested from the movement of ocean waves, tides, and currents, as well as thermal and salinity gradients. The energy entrained in the ocean can be used for a variety of different purposes: from generating electricity for the electrical grid, to propelling ocean robots.
Researchers at national laboratories and universities are working with the private sector to understand marine energy opportunities and overcome technology, environmental, and operational challenges. Widespread deployment of marine energy could provide power to a multitude of blue economy sectors and provide renewable power to coastal communities looking to improve energy resilience.
PNNL and marine energy
PNNL conducts its research related to marine energy in support of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office. This research is also important to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other federal and state agencies. At PNNL, scientists apply their expertise to a broad array of topics, from modeling interactions of fluid flow on tidal turbine blades, to tracking marine mammal interactions with wave energy devices. Recently, PNNL researchers played a leading role in identifying promising new applications for marine energy that could promote economic growth and a sustainable blue economy.
Marine energy is a promising, but challenging technology; significant barriers must be overcome to make it financially attractive. At the Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequim, Washington, PNNL researchers are working to systematically address hurdles to marine energy deployment, both domestically and abroad.
The marine energy industry requires access to testing facilities to advance technologies before becoming commercially available and to develop operational strategies. PNNL is lending technical expertise and facilities to organizations looking to test marine energy technologies through the Triton Initiative and the U.S. Testing Expertise and Access for Marine Energy Research (TEAMER) Program. Triton supports the development of environmental monitoring for marine energy technologies. Through Triton, researchers and industry work together to benchmark technological improvements in environmental sensor systems designed specifically to address regulators’ need to understand potential risks associated with marine energy technologies. Through the TEAMER Program, PNNL will provide developers with access to facilities and expertise to test marine energy technologies. The Marine Sciences Laboratory provides a unique venue able to test small scale devices intended for utility applications, as well as full-scale devices intended for blue economy markets, such as ocean observing.
As research, testing, and initial deployments generate data and information, PNNL works to organize and connect knowledge within the research community, marine energy industry, the blue economy, and other interested stakeholders. To assist in finding information on marine energy research, PNNL developed Tethys and Tethys Engineering. Both offer a collaborative virtual research space with access to databases and knowledge hubs related to marine energy. PNNL is also part of a team developing the Portal and Repository for Information on Marine Renewable Energy—a data repository related to marine energy research and development activities.
PNNL is also studying materials that will benefit the marine energy industry. For example, a patented coating invented at PNNL is combating biofouling from marine organisms for technologies deployed in the marine environment. Researchers at PNNL are also using lasers to pre-treat metal materials to decrease corrosion, reduce material costs, and increase material lifespan.
PNNL research is helping to advance marine energy as a clean, renewable energy source for the future.