PBE is the product of an analytically-driven process focused on near-term end-user needs. It aims to understand the potential for integrating marine energy within the blue economy.
This portfolio of work was propelled by three central goals:
- To understand end-user needs and quantify the value of marine energy in emerging ocean markets uniquely suited to marine renewable energy technology
- To accelerate marine energy technology readiness through near-term opportunities, supporting WPTO’s marine renewable energy strategy and mission
- To enable broader blue economy goals by developing solutions to meet energy challenges facing private and public sector blue economy partners, including unlocking the potential of new ocean-enabled technologies; enhancing scientific capabilities in the ocean; and developing resilience in remote, coastal, and island communities.
The expanding demand for ocean-derived food, materials, and energy—and a more thorough understanding of the oceans—is driving rapid growth in the emerging blue economy.
This expansive view of how oceans can serve fundamental human needs, support climate change mitigation, and drive economic growth includes everything from ocean-powered energy generation, to sustainable aquaculture, to enabling the technologies to map and observe the more than 80% of the ocean that remains unexplored.
Environment, Health, and the Economy
Though the ocean provides many benefits beyond economic growth, the blue economy is a rapidly growing powerhouse 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, growing at twice the rate of the rest of the global economy. According to NOAA’s Report on the U.S. Marine Economy, the blue economy accounted for 157,000 individual businesses, 3.3 million employees, $132 billion in wages, and $307 billion in goods and services in the United States.
When looking at the bigger picture, climate change is an undeniable threat to our environment, our health, and our economy—and marine renewable energy has an important role to play in fostering a better understanding of the ocean and its potential for climate change mitigation.
According to a recent Economist Intelligence Unit report, “the ocean is responsible for 31% of global CO2 absorption and has so far absorbed 90% of the excess heat in the climate system.” Even, so, recent studies have found that a 4°C increase in temperature by the end of this century could cost the United States as much as 2% of its GDP in annual losses. Mitigating such temperature rises—and the negative impacts associated with them—requires substantial cross-sectoral emissions reductions, as well as a better understanding of the role the oceans have played and will play in the absorption of future emissions. Investment in current and future renewable energy technologies, such as marine energy, can empower our country to tackle climate concerns head on, while creating jobs and strengthening our economy in the process.
Coastal communities are increasingly looking to the ocean to develop resilient energy, food, and water systems. In the United States, about 29% of the population (or 60 million people) live in coastal areas that are under stress from sea level rise and increased storm frequency and intensity. Deterioration of coastal areas can threaten public safety, and natural disasters can limit access to freshwater and electricity for extended periods of time. These threats can result in tragic losses, often for those least able to recover—about “40% of Americans living in coastal counties fall into an elevated coastal hazard risk category. These include children, the elderly, households where English isn't the primary language, and those in poverty.”
Marine energy can guide the way to strengthen coastal community resilience. Marine energy devices could be integrated into coastal infrastructure, such as piers, jetties, groins, and breakwaters, providing the dual benefit of shoreline protection and power generation. They could also contribute to coastal microgrids, increasing generating source diversity and reducing reliance on hard-to-find diesel fuel during emergencies. Other emergency needs, such as water desalination, treatment, and supply, could also be met by marine energy technologies, and longer-term critical challenges like food insecurity could be alleviated by marine energy-powered aquaculture.
The Path Forward
The blue economy is ripe for energy innovation. There is significant potential to develop technologies to serve both deep offshore and nearshore energy needs. Breakthroughs are possible, but will require new thinking about energy development, including multidisciplinary approaches; co-development of energy solutions embedded within or tied to blue economy platforms; a commitment to strategic partnerships and community-based, needs-driven approaches; and innovation across multiple technology domains.
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