Within a year of announcing the Powering the Blue Economy initiative, WPTO launched several new competitive solicitations, including prizes and competitions like the Waves to Water Prize, the Ocean Observing Prize, and the Marine Energy Collegiate Competition; formalized partnerships with other agencies and offices within DOE; and released publications detailing preliminary national laboratory–led research on customer demand for energy resources for ocean observing. In 2020, WPTO made more than 85 awards to partners outside of the labs to catalyze innovation in marine energy, including 60 selected projects through its prizes and competitions, 13 new projects under the Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer Program, and 12 new grants and subcontracts in coordination with other agencies and DOE offices. The initiative is applying an array of funding platforms to more closely connect with customers and end users in the blue economy; to better understand the power requirements of emerging coastal and maritime markets; and to advance marine renewable energy technologies to relieve power constraints and promote economic growth.

From a purely economic perspective, the “blue economy” is a rapidly growing sector of the world economy. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicts the global economic value attributable to ocean-related activities will double from $1.5 trillion in 2015 to $3 trillion by 2030, which is twice the rate of growth as the rest of the global economyAccording to the White House 2020 Proclamation on National Ocean Month, developing and advancing the blue economy is a federal government priority. There is a growing recognition of the importance of new technologies to support the blue economy. Some sectors and opportunities—such as aquaculture, ocean observing, and mineral extraction—are expanding further offshore, but moving farther from the shore requires systems that allow for access to consistent, reliable power and are untethered to land-based power grids. These opportunities are not limited to the offshore environment, as coastal communities are also increasingly looking to the ocean to develop resilient energy, food, and water systems.

Powering the Blue Economy initiatives in a tree diagram.
Through its Powering the Blue Economy initiative, WPTO is exploring opportunities for marine energy to provide power at sea and enable resilient coastal communities.
Courtesy of NREL

However, growth in many blue economy sectors is constrained by lack of energy, or these sectors are reliant on sources that require frequent refueling or battery recharging or changing, limiting the growth potential. Existing energy solutions are often unfit for purpose, limited in capacity, damaging to the environment, and expensive, so there are is a real need and opportunity for energy innovation. There is significant potential to develop technologies to serve both deep offshore and nearshore energy solutions. Technology breakthroughs in the blue economy are possible but will require new ways of thinking about energy development, including interdisciplinary approaches, co-development of energy solutions embedded within or tied to blue economy platforms, and innovation across multiple technology domains.

To better understand possible applications for marine energy in the blue economy, WPTO, NREL, and PNNL investigated potential opportunities for the resource to provide services within different blue economy sectors. From 2017 through early 2019, the team conducted extensive analysis and stakeholder engagement as part of this effort. In April 2019, the results of this effort were released in “Powering the Blue Economy: Exploring Opportunities for Marine Renewable Energy in Maritime Markets.” The report identified eight key markets, ranging from aquaculture to coastal resiliency, that are likely to benefit from marine renewable energy.

Providing reliable marine renewable energy to these markets will require new technologies, programs, and partnerships across the marine energy sector, which WPTO aims to foster through interagency agreements and funding opportunities. To support growth in this area, the program invested in key projects at the national laboratories in FY 2019 and FY 2020, which included expanding the use of prizes to support entrepreneurial growth, funding blue economy innovation ecosystem growth in partnership with the U.S Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, and launching a program in partnership with four national laboratories and three DOE offices to explore the benefits of marine energy to energy resiliency.

For additional information, contact Jennifer Garson.

Powering the Blue Economy Success Stories