On this World Ocean Day, we recognize the incredible power and potential of our oceans. At the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO), we are performing vital research and exploring new ways to harness this resource by converting the power in waves, tides, and ocean and river currents into clean electricity. These efforts will help our nation transition to a clean energy economy while supporting coastal communities and protecting the environment.

For example, we support researchers who are developing new marine-energy-powered ocean sensors that track the health and wellbeing of our ocean’s wildlife and bobbing buoys that scan for signs of the next big storm. Through our Ocean Observing Prize, competitors are figuring out new ways to monitor hurricanes by uniting wave- and current-powered systems with ocean observing technologies.

Prize teams have spent the last three years reimagining everything from weather buoys to uncrewed underwater vehicles. Their ocean-bound, ocean-powered devices can lengthen voyages at sea all while protecting the waters they monitor. Longer expeditions mean more coverage, offering better and more timely data to warn coastal cities and island towns when signs indicate a hurricane might be brewing. With climate disasters costing the United States about $148.4 billion annually, these devices have the potential to save both lives and money.

In a recent Ocean Observing Prize video, Carl Gouldman, director of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System Office at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and one of our partners on the prize, said it best: “Without new technologies to power our observing systems, we can’t get the coverage we need. We can’t get the answers to the questions we have. That’s why we need the types of technologies this prize can generate.”

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This joint prize between the Water Power Technologies Office at the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Integrated Ocean Observing System Office seeks to develop new technologies that can help fill the data gaps making it difficult to realize the full potential of the blue economy. Learn more about the Powering the Blue Economy™: Ocean Observing Prize: https://americanmadechallenges.org/challenges/oceanobserving/index.html
American-Made Challenges

Yet even with enhanced ocean observing technologies and early warning systems, these storms can still cause widespread damage. In those scenarios, ocean waves can support another way: small, portable marine energy devices can generate fresh drinking water from the ocean for communities while they recover and rebuild.

Ocean observing is just one member of a vast fleet of growing opportunities in the blue economy. The ocean is powerful—that’s clear from the storms it births. Its power also surfaces in other ways, supporting millions of jobs and supplying at least half of the world’s oxygen. As an example, U.S. aquaculture—or ocean farming for fish, oysters, clams, and even seaweed—produces $1.5 billion worth of seafood and supports 1.7 million jobs every year.

The blue economy is big—and growing. In 2019, the U.S. marine economy grew faster than the nation’s economy as a whole. From international shipping to aquaculture and marine research, marine industries are booming, which means protecting this vital resource and its wildlife and ecosystems is perhaps more important than ever.

WPTO is helping to make that happen. As part of our vast research and development efforts, we support researchers designing new technologies that generate clean power—like those developing cutting-edge floating generators that transform waves into power. Technologies like this could provide clean energy for offshore activities, including oceanographic research and desalination.

Marine energy technologies can, eventually, help coastal and remote island communities both sustainably grow the blue economy and protect our oceans at the same time. The ocean holds power, mysteries, and vast opportunities. Now, with WPTO’s support, scientists are designing pollution-free ways to study, work, and live alongside this great and valuable resource.

Jennifer Garson
Jennifer is the Director of the Water Power Technologies Office, as well as a Senior Advisor and Acting Program Manager for Outreach, Engagement and Analysis in the Water Power Technologies Office at the U.S. Department of Energy, where she supports research and development in hydropower and marine renewable energy.
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