Marine Energy Program

Data Access, Analytics, and Workforce Development

Project NameGrid Value Proposition of Marine Energy: A Preliminary Analysis

Project TeamPacific Northwest National Laboratory (lead), National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oregon State University, and Pacific Ocean Energy Trust

Lead Recipient LocationRichland, Washington

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A new report, Grid Value Proposition of Marine Energy: A Preliminary Analysis, provided a framework to assess marine energy’s potential grid benefits, like supporting local resiliency and complementing other renewable energy resources. To achieve commercial success, the marine energy industry must explain the unique benefits it can provide beyond decarbonization, and this value had not previously been well quantified. This framework helps quantify these benefits to support future grid planning and investment decisions.  

Because marine energy is still in the early stages of development, the industry has only deployed a handful of devices. That lack of real-world deployment, along with current high costs relative to wind energy and solar power, make it challenging to accurately evaluate marine energy’s value with traditional metrics, like cost of energy produced. Without these metrics, developers and utilities will likely be hesitant to deploy marine energy devices. 

Animation shows an island surrounded by waves. The wind is blowing and the sun is shining. A bar chart comes on screen showing the days of the week, Monday through Friday. It then fills in with an approximation of the amount of energy needed and the amount that could come from wave, wind, solar, and battery resources.
As the country adds more renewable energy to its grid, many communities will rely on a combination of resources, including marine energy. Here, an island capitalizes on its powerful waves to meet its energy demand.
Animation by Sara Levine, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

To begin to clarify marine energy’s value, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, working with colleagues from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oregon State University, and the Pacific Ocean Energy Trust, conducted several types of analyses to illustrate and quantify marine energy’s benefits.  

The authors found many potential opportunities for the deployment of marine energy technologies both in the near term and within typical utility planning timeframes (up to 20 years). From a resource and technology perspective, marine energy can deliver distinct and valuable benefits to different configurations of the grid, including large, interconnected electrical systems like the U.S. national grid, as well as smaller, isolated systems that provide power to remote communities and islands, and microgrids. For example, marine energy can:  

  • Help increase the diversity of energy-generating technologies that serve a specific community, which helps increase a grid’s resiliency. (If one source needs repairs, for example, others can fill the gaps.)
  • Provide energy where it is otherwise difficult to come by, like in remote Alaskan towns or islands, which often depend on expensive shipments of liquid fuels.  
  • Complement other resources, like wind energy and solar power; marine energy can often generate more electricity at times when other sources tend to generate less (like in the winter months and at night). 
  • Be deployed in water to avoid land constraints, which is especially critical for island systems or developed coasts where the footprint of existing renewable energy technologies could limit ambitious decarbonization goals. 

An enhanced understanding of marine energy benefits, the authors argue, will help ensure utilities and systems operators consider marine energy technologies in energy planning. Greater awareness of marine energy’s value will also help manufacturers and developers tailor their device designs to optimize the benefits they could deliver to the grid.  

Data Access, Analytics, and Workforce Development Projects