I had the opportunity to attend the Global Marine Renewable Energy Conference held earlier this month (April 15-18) in Seattle. For those who haven’t been it is the only US national conference I am aware of which has the Marine Hydro-Kinetic (MHK) technology and related market development as its focus. While there is no denying that this is an early stage market, the range of innovation and possibility with this type of technology cannot be denied.
There are three MHK test centers being proposed for the US, (Hawai’i, Florida and Oregon) and to get a sense of the state of play for the MHK industry in the US maybe the best place to start is the one in Oregon. The National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NMREC), it is a partnership between Oregon State University and the University of Washington. Their most high profile project is the development of the Pacific Marine Energy Center or PMEC.
PMEC will be the first-of-its-kind in the US facility able to test the energy generation potential and the environmental impacts of wave energy devices, at an ocean site about five miles from shore. Subsea cables will transmit energy from the wave energy devices to the local power grid, and data to scientists and engineers at on-shore facilities.
As MHK an emerging technology type, having a location which can provide a grid connected infrastructure on which a prototype can be tested, will allow developers to focus on their device designs knowing they will be able to deploy them in the ocean when they are ready to go: A huge step forward. An excellent article on the plans for PMEC can be found here.
While not nearly as advanced as wind energy, the potential for energy produced from MHK sources cannot be understated. From the perspective of transmission, the development of offshore systems designed for their security benefits and to relieve congestion in places where overhead cables cannot be permitted or connecting grids that are not contiguous is increasingly becoming a planning reality in many places throughout the world.
Considering all the types of energy which could be added to such systems, such as wind or MHK only makes it more likely that in coastal regions with high amounts of electricity usage, few local electricity production alternatives and who are serious about adding utility scale renewable alternatives to their mix, these types of technologies along with the jobs and industry which go with them, will find a good home.