In 2018, the US Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office Marine Hydrokinetics Program directed two national laboratories, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and National Renewable Energy Laboratory, to investigate the potential of marine renewable resources to contribute the U.S. electric system. Due to the innovative nature of marine renewable energy and the transformation of the US electric system resource mix, there is a lack of insight about the future potential role and grid value proposition of marine energy.
An initial step in this technical project is to review available literature to inform and help characterize the portfolio of potential marine energy resource contributions. This literature review summarizes the energy fundamentals of marine resources; the performance and operational characteristics of energy conversion devices; grid opportunities and integration challenges most applicable to marine energy; storage coupling to achieve grid opportunities; and offshore wind energy competition and collaboration. It provides the context and the state of knowledge in which the grid value proposition of marine energy should be further researched and explored.
Notable findings from the review include the following:
- Very little work has been conducted to connect the grid and fundamental marine energy development. Few technical papers attempt to demonstrate grid value from marine energy or, conversely, illustrate how grid applications may have an effect on device size and scale, convergence of device types, and location of marine energy technologies. Those that have done so relied on numerous estimations and assumptions and target very specific potential benefits.
- Aggregation of tidal generation for baseload—the concept of distributing tidal generators to accomplish complementary phase shifts in generation that, when summed, would provide relatively stable power—faces challenges from a cost perspective. One study evaluated three geographically separate, complementary locations off the Scottish coast. The study concluded that aggregate power generated from sites with varying resources is sensitive to the characteristics of the individual sites and some irregularity should be expected in aggregate power output due to natural variation in successive tides. Ultimately, the study suggests that using complementary sites and limiting the capacity of the turbines, particularly during neap tides, could create baseload power, or a constant power output; but the research team expressed concerns regarding whether such a deployment would be cost effective. Decreasing the turbines’ rated capacity and therefore not capturing the resource to its fullest extent would cause economic losses.
- Tidal energy-generating profiles may be well matched for storage. Energy storage is a fast-growing resource in the energy industry. It can provide value in a multitude of grid situations, including supporting marine energy technologies. One report suggests that because tides are predictable, tidal technologies are ideal for pairing with energy storage to create a steady output of power. In fact, Nova Innovation recently integrated a Tesla battery storage system with the Shetland Tidal Array in Scotland and expanded the generating capacity and enabled dispatchability at the site.
- There is a potential match between resource peak and electric demand. When considering a seasonally peaking resource, like wave energy, there is an opportunity for the generation patterns to be well matched with energy demand. For example, one study noted that British Columbia’s energy consumption peaks in the winter when the available wave resource is also at its strongest; this same characteristic is true along the rest of North America’s Pacific Northwest coast.
- Co-location may deliver grid benefits. A study evaluating a portion of the North Sea showed that there could be significant benefits to co-locating wave devices and offshore wind turbines. When wind and waves are negatively correlated, this decreases variability and can help mitigate grid integration concerns that are sometimes associated with variable generation. Being proactive in the siting process and performing quantitative spatial planning can avoid potential conflicts between sea uses, while harnessing the most useful energy.
- The availability and cost of land was used in utility decision-making for resource selection and resulted in a portfolio selection that included marine energy development. In a 2017 Integrated Resource Plan for the Caribbean Utilities Company (the public electric utility for Grand Cayman in the Grand Cayman Islands), a contractor evaluated land use associated with different generation technologies and found a significant advantage to using marine energy, specifically ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC). Accordingly, and despite a higher capital cost for OTEC relative to other resource options, the resource plan containing OTEC was among the two recommended portfolios. In the portfolio, OTEC resources replaced onshore solar development, which requires a relatively high land commitment proportional to total generation, as well as natural gas-fired backup generation and battery storage. Although OTEC is not considered in this report, connections can be drawn to the technology, and research from that field is applicable to other marine energy resources in particular instances.
As the marine energy industry grows, there is a corresponding increase in the body of literature about both the potential value of harnessing marine resources as well as the requisite technical work to integrate the resource into the grid. Due to the unique aspects of marine energy resources, especially their offshore location, volume, and predictability, there are many reasons to consider marine energy a viable potential renewable resource in the future electric system.
Revised: November 1, 2019 | Published: July 1, 2019