CNET explores the potential of “marine energy,” starting with “an ambitious endeavor nearing completion off the coast of Oregon, where 7 miles of conduit were laid under the floor of the Pacific Ocean using pioneering horizontal drilling techniques.”
Soon, thick cables will be run through that conduit to connect the mainland to PacWave, an offshore experimental testbed built to develop and demonstrate new technology that converts the power of waves into onshore electricity. Once fully operational (as soon as 2025), PacWave could generate up to 20 megawatts, enough to power a few thousand homes.
“I get really excited about wave energy because the resource is so large,” Levi Kilcher, a senior scientist with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, told me. Kilcher is a lead author on the 2021 National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report that compiled available data on marine energy sources in the US, including waves, tides and ocean currents. The team found that the total energy potential is equal to more than half (57%) of the electricity generated in the U.S. in a single year…
Waves are just one potential source of marine energy that scientists and officials are investigating. Andrea Copping, a senior researcher at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, says there’s renewed interest in another form of marine energy: ocean thermal energy conversion, or OTEC, which involves bringing up colder water from deeper parts of the ocean. This chilly flow then goes through a heat exchange process with warmer surface water, similar to the way home heat pumps exchange hot and cold air. That process drives a turbine to generate electricity… A small OTEC plant has been functioning in Hawaii for years. Copping believes new commitments from the U.S. government hold promise for the future of the technology, which has also seen significant interest in Japan and other surrounding nations.
It’s possible that concern over climate change could unlock new sources of funding for OTEC… There’s also the added bonus that the cold water pipes can double as a form of air conditioning in the tropical locales where OTEC works best.