People have been attracted to the ocean for decades for its potential. Waves, as well as ocean and tidal currents, contain tremendous energy. What if we could directly harness ocean energy to bring power where it didn’t exist before?

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) Marine and Hydrokinetic Program initiated a first-of-its kind assessment for identifying and studying the range of potential applications and markets for marine energy technologies. Researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), working with their colleagues at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), identified and assessed 12 markets that could benefit from marine energy in the draft report, Potential Maritime Markets for Marine and Hydrokinetic Technologies. The maritime markets discussed in the draft report are:

  • Ocean Observations
  • Unmanned Underwater Vehicles/Autonomous Underwater Vehicles Recharge
  • Data Centers
  • High Cost Utility Grids
  • Isolated Community Grids
  • Canal Power
  • Aquaculture
  • Algae
  • Desalination of Seawater
  • Seawater Mining
  • Shoreline Protection
  • Disaster Relief and Recovery
grid view of the 12 maritime markets

To identify the most applicable markets, the team conducted industry engagement forums, literature reviews, and interviewed dozens of stakeholders in those markets, a process that took months. Each market case has a potential application, a value proposition, and a path to market. Each also identifies the current state of technology, power requirements, and industry and government partners who may be interested in further developing each application.

The results from the different stakeholder activities were intriguing. For example, the PNNL research team describes how underwater research and data-gathering vehicles use battery power that must be recharged, typically using a surface ship. This is a labor/time-intensive and costly process. The opportunity here is to develop wave-converting devices that could deliver the power to the vehicle at-depth.

WPTO recognizes the unique potential of marine energy to serve distributed maritime markets where finding reliable sources of energy at sea is a major constraint. That’s why WPTO invests in early-stage research and development in marine energy technologies that have the potential to provide reliable power at grid scale, strengthen the resilience of our nation’s energy systems, and contribute to economic development.