Powering the Blue Economy Report

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The U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) supports foundational science and early-stage research to rapidly improve performance and reduce costs of marine energy generation technologies. Through the development of this report, Powering the Blue Economy™: Exploring Opportunities for Marine Renewable Energy in Maritime Markets, WPTO highlights potential markets for marine energy technologies beyond the national grid, applications where marine energy provides advantages and solutions to energy limitations.

These markets can be broadly organized into two themes:

  1. Providing power at sea to support offshore industries, science, and security activities
  2. Meeting the energy and water needs of coastal and rural island stakeholders in support of resilient coastal communities.

The spill-over effects from pursuing these near-term opportunities will advance marine energy technology readiness for cost-competitive utility-scale markets, and may also lead to unforeseen markets and opportunities.

This report summarizes and organizes the information collected from these various sources, identifies themes, and offers potential next steps.

Power at Sea

From ocean exploration and navigation to fish cultivation, many marine-based applications and markets are located far from shore—sometimes in deep water. Delivering power to these systems can be expensive and difficult. Powering systems that use energy derived from the ocean offers a cost-effective alternative.

Ocean Observation and Navigation
Graphic illustrating Ocean Observation and Navigation.
Figure 2.1. Marine renewable energy (MRE) application overview for ocean observation. | Molly Grear, PNNL

Nearly 80% of the oceans have not been explored or mapped. New instruments, platforms, and tools are being developed to change this. And yet, the use of ocean instrumentation is often limited by battery capacity, data storage, and transmission to shore. The amount of data that can be collected and transmitted by weather buoys, profiling instruments, tsunami warning devices, and other systems—as well as the time they can remain at sea unattended—is limited. Marine energy could meet these needs and has unique advantages for at-sea power generation.

Download the chapter about Ocean Observation and Navigation >>

Underwater Vehicle Charging: Autonomous Underwater Vehicles, Unmanned Underwater Vehicles, and Remotely Operated Vehicles
Graphic illustrating Underwater Vehicle Charging.
Figure 3.1. Marine energy application overview for underwater recharge of vehicles. | Molly Grear, PNNL

Ocean observation beneath the sea’s surface can be conducted by underwater vehicles that are remotely operated (drones) or preprogrammed to perform tasks (robots). Underwater vehicles offer many advantages for underwater exploration and mapping, but their mission ranges and durations can be limited by battery power capacity. Powering underwater charging and docking stations with marine energy could solve this problem.

Download the chapter about Underwater Vehicle Charging >>

Offshore Marine Aquaculture
Graphic illustrating Offshore Marine Aquaculture.
Figure 4.1. Marine renewable energy application overview for offshore marine aquaculture. | Molly Grear, PNNL

Aquaculture—the cultivation of finfish, shellfish, crustaceans, and seaweeds—can occur in coastal, deepwater, and offshore areas. Offshore aquaculture operations require energy to power equipment, automatic fish feeders, refrigeration, and crew living quarters. Many aquaculture facilities could be powered by marine energy—particularly wave energy converters that can be integrated with aquaculture facilities.

Download the chapter about Offshore Marine Aquaculture >>

Marine Algae
Graphic illustrating Marine Algae.
Figure 5.1. Marine renewable energy application overview for a macroalgae farm. | Molly Grear, PNNL

Growing seaweed and other algae at commercial scale at sea has many advantages. It doesn’t require land, irrigation systems, or added nutrients or fertilizers. And marine algae can be used for everything from biofuels to animal feed. Marine renewable energy, generated by wave energy converters, could power the equipment, refrigeration, and vehicle recharging required by large-scale algae growing and harvesting operations at sea.

Download the chapter about Marine Algae >>

Mining Seawater Minerals and Gases
Graphic illustrating Mining Seawater Minerals and Gasses.
Figure 6.1. Marine energy application overview for mining seawater. | Molly Grear, PNNL

Seawater can be mined for minerals, such as lithium and uranium, and gases such as carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and oxygen. While most systems for extracting these resources from seawater are in the early stages of development, marine energy could advance seawater mining opportunities by powering machinery for extracting elements, pumping seawater, and safety and monitoring equipment.

Download the chapter about Mining Seawater Minerals and Gases >>

Resilient Coastal Communities

Marine energy can help support coastal communities, making them more resilient in the face of extreme events such as tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, or droughts. Many marine energy applications are ideally suited to coastal development by offering relatively easy access for installation and operation and maintenance activities.

Graphic illustrating Desalination.
Figure 7.1. Marine renewable energy (MRE) application overview for desalination. | Molly Grear, PNNL

The energy required to separate salts and other dissolved solids from water makes desalination an energy-intensive process. Marine energy resources, which are inherently located near potential desalination water supplies and highly populated areas along coastlines, could provide low-cost, emission-free, drought-resistant drinking water to larger communities.

Download the chapter about Desalination >>

Coastal Resiliency and Disaster Recovery
Graphic illustrating Coastal Resiliency and Disaster Recovery.
Figure 8.1. Marine energy application overview for emergency response. | Molly Grear, PNNL

Coastal areas tend to be densely populated and prone to extreme events, such as tsunamis, tropical storms, and flooding, which limit access to freshwater and electricity. Marine energy devices could be integrated into piers, jetties, and breakwaters to provide shoreline protection, generate power, improve power source diversity, and reduce reliance on diesel fuel. Marine energy could be used to support other immediate needs, such as emergency desalination.

Download the chapter about Coastal Resiliency and Disaster Recovery >>

Isolated Power Systems: Community Microgrids
Graphic illustrating Isolated Power Systems: Community Microgrids.
Figure 9.1. Hydrokinetic energy application overview for isolated communities. | Molly Grear, PNNL

In remote communities, military bases, and resorts, electric power is essential for lighting, water pumping, and running services such as wastewater treatment. Many remote communities depend on expensive diesel fuel for their power. Marine energy technologies could complement or replace diesel fuel in remote communities, offering cost savings, environmental benefits, and energy resiliency.

Download the chapter about Isolated Power Systems >>

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