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By Kris Polly
Marine energy is an exciting emerging field in the water power world. Like conventional hydropower, it uses the natural movement of water to create power, and in some cases it uses turbine-style technologies, but instead of siting its facilities on dams or reservoirs, it harnesses the power of flowing rivers, tides, ocean currents, and wave action. This month, we look at a wide spectrum of marine energy technologies and give you a look into the future of this sector.
We start with an interview with Stuart Davies, the CEO of ORPC, which builds river and tidal energy devices and has had several extended deployments over the past few years. For instance, the RivGen Power System it deployed in the remote village of Igiugig, Alaska, is going into its fourth year of operation—coming out of a winter in which it withstood temperatures as low as -40°C. ORPC also just deployed its first Modular RivGen device in Millinocket, Maine. These are great examples of already-commercialized devices ready to be deployed around the world.
Next, we speak with Marcus Lehmann of CalWave Power Technologies, which has been developing and testing a series of wave energy devices designed to operate under the surface of the ocean, several miles offshore. A 2022 pilot with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography showed promise; next, the technology will be tested at Oregon State University’s PacWave center and then commercialized.
Understandably, government regulators and technology companies themselves want to make sure that novel marine energy technologies are safe for wildlife. That’s where BioSonics comes in. The Seattle-based hydroacoustic technology company uses its sonar devices to assess animals’ reactions to these devices; one upcoming test will focus specifically on whales. BioSonics President Tim Acker tells us more.
In addition to river flows, tides, and waves, another source of energy in the ocean are currents. Walter Schurtenberger’s Hydrokinetic Energy Corp. is working to develop underwater turbines that can harness major currents such as the Gulf Stream.
Because wave energy technologies are so new, advanced testing locations are critically important. Oregon-based PacWave is one such location, and as Chief Scientist Burke Hales informs us, it will only become more important when its grid-connected PacWave South site comes online in 2025.
On the East Coast, North Carolina’s Coastal Studies Institute is pursuing similar goals by providing research and testing facilities for current and wave energy devices. Assistant Director Mike Muglia tells us more about how the institute is working to power North Carolina’s blue economy.
Scholars estimate that marine energy resources could meet a significant percentage of the United States’ energy needs. Given the promising early results that technical and environmental tests have returned, marine energy is likely to be a field we all hear a lot more about in the future.
Kris Polly is the editor-in-chief of Hydro Leader magazine and the president and CEO of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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