Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wave and Tidal Energy - again the Next Big Thing?

Thanks to Laurel Krause at Mendo Coast Current for capturing this story from yesterday's Christian Science Monitor.

I live not far from Pennington, NJ, the home of Ocean Power Technologies, but that's not the only reason hydrokinetic energy interests me. Wave and tidal energy resources off the New Jersey Coast could add as much as 100MW to New Jersey's renewable energy potential. That's 50% of the state's still contentious target for onshore wind.

OPTT and other US wave and tidal companies have always struggled in the States, but have gotten a lot of attention from Spain, Portugal, the UK ( especially Scotland) and Northern Ireland. Spanish and Portugese projects have fallen victim to the dryup of alternate energy investments but the US now actually seems interested. If wave and tidal actually take off in the the US, California and New Jersey are probably where they will happen first.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) maintains a complete directory of active wave and tidal projects, along with extensive reports on wave and tidal R&D. They also published a very informative research report in 2007.

Wave and tidal technologies compete with elevated offshore wind turbines for public and policymaker attention - and funding. They also cost a lot to build and maintain. Another problem is that tidal and wave technologies are still in the early, pre-commercial stage and probably five years away from large scale deployment. While they are coming up to speed, wind, solar, biomass, conservation and efficiency technologies will continue to advance.

That creates the risk that wave and tidal technologies could permanently lag behind in the competition for investment and customers, and remain niche technologies forever. The upside is that niche technologies can do really well if the niche is big enough.

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