While there is excitement about the potential of renewable technologies such as ocean power, there are challenges when it comes to scaling up.
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The U.S. Department of Energy said $35 million in funding will be made available to “advance on-river and on-river energy programs” under plans it hopes will provide a boost to the sector’s current small footprint.
In a statement Tuesday explaining the move, the DOE said the funding opportunity — scheduled to be released in 2023 — represents “a major investment in current ocean and river energy technologies in the United States.”
A notice of intent related to the funding opportunity is posted online. The DOE said it plans to “develop current tidal or river research, development, and demonstration sites and support the demonstration of at least one marine energy system.”
Alejandro Moreno, acting assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, said that oceans and rivers represent “a great source of renewable energy.” The DOE said funding would come from the Consolidated Infrastructure Act.
In the past few years a number of projects related to ocean energy, including those in the United States, have taken significant steps forward.
In July 2021, for example, a wind turbine called “the most powerful in the world” started generating electricity at the European Marine Energy Center in Orkney, an island in the north of Scotland.
In May 2022, a £4.6 million (about $5.18 million) facility to test engine blades under extreme conditions was officially opened, with those behind it hoping it will speed up the development of marine energy technology and lower costs.
While there is excitement about the potential of renewable technologies like wave power, there are significant challenges when it comes to scaling up, a point the DOE acknowledged in its announcement.
“The current US energy industry and the current river require long-term funding and the most important thing is to go from testing equipment one at a time to establishing a commercial space,” he said.
“The difficulty of installing equipment and systems to allow flow, as well as the lack of connection to local power grids, have proven to be an obstacle related to the advancement of river and river energy.”
Today, America’s electricity generation mix remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels.
According to preliminary figures from the US Energy Information Administration, in 2021 the share of fossil fuels for electricity generation at the electricity scale was 60.8%. Conversely, the share of renewables stands at 20.1%, while nuclear holds 18.9%.
While tidal development has been a major focus of those working in the ocean energy industry – EDF’s La Rance dates back to the 1960s, for example – recent years have seen companies turn their attention to different systems.
These include river devices which, the European Marine Energy Center says, are “generally similar to underwater wind turbines.” Compared to other renewables, the overall size of river and wave power projects is very small.
In data released in March 2022, Ocean Energy Europe said that 2.2 MW of hydropower capacity was installed in Europe last year, compared to 260 kilowatts in 2020.
For wave power, 681 kW was installed, which tripled the OEE. Globally, 1.38 MW of wave power came online in 2021, while 3.12 MW of wave capacity was installed.
By way of comparison, Europe has installed 17.4 gigawatts of wind power capacity by 2021, according to figures from industry body WindEurope.