Expanding demand for ocean-derived food, materials, energy, and knowledge is driving rapid growth in the emerging “blue economy." Blue economy industries, such as aquaculture, are moving further offshore to take advantage of the vast scale of the ocean, but moving further offshore requires access to consistent, reliable power untethered to land-based power grids.

Removing power constraints could enable new technologies and accelerate growth in the blue economy, creating new markets for sustained economic development. Marine energy resources could be particularly well poised to address these power constraints because they are abundant, geologically diverse, energy dense, predicable, and complimentary to other energy sources. The U.S. Department of Energy's Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) has investigated the opportunities for marine energy to enable coastal and maritime markets across the blue economy.

The Powering the Blue Economy™ initiative seeks to understand the power requirement of emerging coastal and maritime markets and advance technologies that could integrate marine renewable energy to relieve these power constraints and promote economic growth.

Exploring Opportunities for Marine Renewable Energy in Maritime Markets

Dec. 5–7, 2017, WPTO hosted the Marine Energy Technologies Forum: Distributed and Alternate Applications. During the forum, attendees discussed new potential applications for marine renewable energy and how emerging technologies capturing wave and tidal power can help meet the energy needs of a range of coastal and marine industries.

Following the Forum, WPTO released a draft report on the outcomes of the forum through a Request for Information to solicit responses from the public about the report. The report detailed the current economic and technical landscapes for 12 maritime markets where applications may exist for marine renewable energy technologies. The following markets were analyzed: ocean observations, unmanned underwater vehicles/autonomous underwater vehicle charging, data centers, high-cost utility grids, isolated community grids, canal power, aquaculture, algae, seawater desalination, seawater mining, shoreline protection, and disaster relief and recovery.

Powering the Blue Economy™ Report

WPTO collected and reviewed more than 400 comments from stakeholders and integrated the feedback into the final report, Powering the Blue Economy™: Exploring Opportunities for Marine Renewable Energy in Maritime Markets, which highlights a compelling set of eight blue economy opportunities that could be supported by marine and hydrokinetic technologies. 

The final report investigates eight markets: 

  • Ocean observation
  • Underwater vehicle charging
  • Marine aquaculture
  • Marine algae
  • Seawater mining (power at sea)
  • Seawater desalination
  • Coastal resiliency and disaster recovery
  • Isolated communities (resilient coastal communities).

Explore the full report

Building on this report, WPTO is exploring partnerships between the marine renewable energy industry, coastal stakeholders, and blue economy sectors to address two thematic challenges: Power at Sea and Resilient Coastal Communities.

Video Url

A virtual representation of the potential future of the blue economy, highlighting the five markets under Power at Sea: ocean observation, underwater vehicle charging, offshore marine aquaculture, marine algae, and seawater mining.

Video courtesy of the Department of Energy

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.

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.

This portfolio of work complements and supports other WPTO activities focused on developing low-cost and reliable marine energy systems to provide power to the U.S. electric grid. Find out more about these challenges and download the full report.

Powering the Blue Economy™ Prizes & Competitions

Ocean Observing Prize

Ocean observations underpin our ability to understand the ocean, predict and track potentially destructive tropical storms, monitor fish stocks that communities depend on for sustenance, alert coastal areas of deadly tsunamis, and even monitor for sub-sea activities of foreign powers to protect our uniformed service members. However, over 80% of the ocean remains unexplored, and without the requisite observations, data, monitoring, and forecasting capabilities, it is difficult for industry to make the strategic siting, development, and management decisions needed to realize the full potential of the blue economy. Given the improvements in computer processing over the last two decades, energy has become the primary constraint on the capabilities of affordable ocean observing platforms such as sensors, autonomous underwater vehicles, buoys, floats, tags, and more.

The Powering the Blue Economy™: Ocean Observing Prize challenges innovators to integrate marine renewable energy with ocean observation platforms, ultimately revolutionizing our capability to collect the data needed to understand and map the ocean. This prize is jointly offered by the Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) at DOE and the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) program at NOAA. The Ocean Observing Prize will include a series of competitions over several years to encourage rapid innovation in the fields of marine energy and ocean observations to develop solutions that meet the needs of ocean researchers, agencies, explorers, and other end-users.

Visit the competition website for more details.

Marine Energy Collegiate Competition

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is hosting a challenge for university students to advance one of the most up-and-coming industries: marine energy. The Powering the Blue Economy™: Marine Energy Collegiate Competition (MECC) is designed to challenge interdisciplinary teams of undergraduate and graduate students to offer unique solutions to the burgeoning marine energy industry that can play a vital role in powering the blue economy. The competition will provide students with real-world experience and industry connections that will help them prepare for future careers in the marine energy sector and the blue economy.

The inaugural MECC will be held in conjunction with the International Conference on Ocean Energy (ICOE) in Washington, DC, on May 19-20, 2020. Further details are provided in the 2020 Rules & Requirements.

For more information on registration and the elements of the 2020 competition, please visit the competition website.

Waves to Water Prize

Consistent access to freshwater is a challenge for many remote or island coastal communities. Seawater intrusion contaminates local freshwater aquifers while high energy costs have traditionally made desalination a costly option only relevant to large, well-capitalized municipal water systems. Wave power could provide a solution to advance water security at a variety of scales—from small modular systems easily deployed following a disruption in water supply, to larger, industrial-scale systems that provide consistent water at the community scale. Technical and market challenges stand in the way of demonstrating this potentially valuable technology. WPTO has announced the Waves to Water prize to accelerate innovation in this area.

The Powering the Blue Economy™: Waves to Water Prize challenges innovators to design and validate an easily deployable wave-powered desalination system that will compete with other existing systems. Waves for Water provides innovators a pathway from initial concept, through technical design, to prototype and field test systems that provide clean, abundant drinking water using only waves as their power source. The prize will advance the American wave-powered desalination industry, as well provide new technology options to solve persistent water security challenges.

This prize is a part of DOE’s new Water Security Grand Challenge, which is focused on advancing transformational technology and innovation to meet the global need for secure and affordable water. The prize is aligned with multiple Water Security Grand Challenge goals, including:

  • By 2030, launch desalination technologies that deliver cost-competitive clean water. 
  • By 2030, develop small, modular energy-water systems for urban, rural, tribal, national security, and disaster response settings.

Visit the competition website for more details.

Past Prizes & Competitions

Wave Energy Prize

In 2016, AquaHarmonics took home the $1.5 million grand prize in the Energy Department's Wave Energy Prize, an 18-month design-build-test competition to increase the energy capture potential of wave energy devices. CalWave Power Technologies and Waveswing America were awarded second and third place, respectively, with $500,000 and $250,000 in cash prizes. The goal of the Wave Energy Prize was to stimulate the development of innovative wave energy converters that have the prospect for becoming commercially competitive with other forms of electricity generation.

Both the Waves for Water Prize and the Ocean Observing Prize will be launched on the American-Made Challenge platform, which was created to incentivize innovators nationwide to develop technologies and solutions to strengthen U.S. competitiveness in energy and leverage the nation’s innovation ecosystem to support entrepreneurs.

Find out more about WPTO Prizes & Competitions.