Those who follow the ocean energy industry are confronted with a fascinating array of technologies, ranging from articulated "sea snakes" to anchored buoys that exploit oscillating water columns to underwater turbines and other cutting edge technologies. Ocean energy offers enormous possibilities, with the World Energy Council estimating that waves alone (to say nothing of tides, currents or ocean thermal energy) could provide anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 gigawatts of capacity. The Bay of Fundy in eastern Canada has tides so dramatic that it could in theory generate 17,000 GWh per year; some estimates suggests that tidal energy could produce as much as 1 million GWh per year, about 5 percent of today’s worldwide electricity generation. (For an excellent overview of the potential of various renewable energy sources, see NewScientist’s October 11-17, 2008 special issue on renewable energy.) The Obama Administration will make renewable energy a high priority, and ocean energy will benefit from that policy emphasis.
Along with the promise, ocean energy faces some unique challenges. For example, wave height and frequency vary significantly depending on geography and weather, and deployed technologies need to be tailored to the environment in which they will operate. Ocean technology must also cope with the power of the sea itself, including storms and freak waves. On top of the technical challenges, ocean energy faces legal hurdles. The California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) recently disapproved of a proposed 2MW wave energy power purchase agreement between Finavera and Pacific Gas & Electric, ruling that that the technology involved was not sufficiently reliable and that the cost of energy was too high. (For details of the CPUC’s decision and a link to the decision itself, see our Energy Law Alert entitled "California Public Utilities Commission Rejects Finavera-PG&E Wave Energy Contract ." ) The process of permitting and interconnecting an ocean energy facility will require the development of a strategy that threads the needle among stakeholders and conflicting state and federal regulations and claims of jurisdiction.
For those interested in learning more about ocean energy and how to make it a reality, Greentech Media will be holding a Forecasting the Future of Ocean Power conference in Portland, Oregon, on February 10-11, 2009. The conference will bring together analysts, investors, technology developers and suppliers, policy makers, and legal experts for a comprehensive look at the emerging ocean power industry. Stoel Rives is a sponsor for the event, which will also draw on research from Greentech Media’s leading ocean power market analysis.