Marine Energy Program

Foundational R&D

Project Name: Marine Energy Resource Assessment and Characterization                            

Project Team: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (lead), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories

Lead Recipient Location: Golden, Colorado

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Understanding the potential for marine energy in the nation’s oceans requires analysis to detail the theoretical potential of wave, tidal, current, ocean thermal, and river hydrokinetic resources. With support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO), a multilab team of oceanographers, engineers, and data scientists this year produced a comprehensive report detailing renewable marine energy resources.

Motivated by its pioneering work on the importance of turbulence in wind turbine design, the team developed new measurement systems that produce the marine resource statistics needed for tidal, current, and wave energy device design. In 2021, the team—made up of staff from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), and Sandia National Laboratories—published a report detailing the latest resource estimates based on new datasets and made these new datasets publicly available in an online mapping tool.

In February 2021, the labs released Marine Energy in the United States: An Overview of Opportunities, a technical report summarizing the location and quantity of utility-scale wave, tidal and ocean current, ocean thermal, and river hydrokinetic resources in the United States. The information presented in the report will help improve understanding of the locations and characteristics of marine energy resources and how they might contribute to the future energy portfolio of the United States. The analysis from this study can help developers design the next generation of marine energy devices.

Two men in hard hats and stand next to a kayak on the deck of a boat on the water. One man is wearing a life jacket, and one is wearing a neon yellow jacket.

The Water Power Technologies Office supports collaboration among its national labs and the marine energy industry to deliver the resource data necessary to design the next generation of marine energy technologies. Photo courtesy of National Renewable Energy Laboratory 

Datasets cited in this report can be found in the Marine Energy Atlas, an interactive mapping tool that explores the potential for marine energy resources in the United States. In 2021, this publicly accessible tool was updated with a new high-spatial-resolution ocean surface wave hindcast dataset. Developed by a team led by NREL with PNNL, Sandia National Laboratories, North Carolina State University, and University of Hawai'i, the new dataset provides a more complete accounting of how U.S. wave energy totals are estimated.

The Marine Energy Atlas also received several other updates this year in the form of new features designed to enhance the user experience, including a filterable and searchable data library; new data layers, including wave models for Pacific, Atlantic, and Hawaiian regions; and back-end upgrades that increase performance for on-the-fly visualization of high-resolution datasets.

The Marine Energy Atlas can help technology designers determine how well their devices are suited for a particular part of the ocean and project developers identify promising sites for building wave energy farms. By making this valuable data available to the public, the atlas can help the marine energy industry chart a smooth course forward.

Foundational R&D Projects