Our Transition to a Clean-Energy Economy Cannot Overlook the Power of Our Oceans

President Joe Biden took crucial first steps towards his administration’s ambitious sustainability goals with a $2 trillion infrastructure plan to help our nation’s fight against the climate crisis, which is betting big on renewable energy sources to help get there. However, offshore energy sources often lack the necessary tools to enable consistent power generation without being tethered to costly grid technologies, and gaps persist in the availability of data that would fully unlock the potential of the industry.

That’s why it’s critical for policymakers to incentivize and accelerate new solutions that can address this challenge — and tapping into the power of the ocean can be critical to these efforts.

While much of the focus of our nation’s energy transition remains on traditional renewable energy sources like wind and solar power, an underdiscussed part of these efforts is how to utilize the power of the ocean to meet our nation’s clean energy goals. According to a report by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, ocean-based climate solutions can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions needed to limit rising global temperatures by more than 20 percent.

Wave energy is an example of an overlooked resource that can put the nation on the path to a more sustainable future. Breakthrough technologies like wave-energy-converter buoys are able to autonomously harness and store the energy created by the motion of the oceans, providing continuous power from entirely renewable sources. In fact, experts estimate that wave energy can generate close to 65 percent of U.S. electricity demands, and the International Renewable Energy Agency has noted that ocean power could ultimately surpass solar or wind power if fully unlocked.

And while leveraging the power of the ocean can certainly help with energy generation, perhaps more importantly, it can also help support decarbonization efforts by the energy industry. Traditional offshore oil and gas activities produce significant carbon emissions to meet our nation’s ever-growing energy demands. But by tapping the tools that can produce reliable, clean electricity from wave activity autonomously and with minimal carbon footprint, these offshore industries can significantly reduce their overall emissions while still meeting energy demands as efficiently as possible.

At the same time, there is a wealth of data sitting beneath the sea surface that help make these offshore operations even more efficient. By using real-time data collection and visualization — from wave radars to water quality sensors and seafloor mapping — these innovations can arm the private and public sectors with a more comprehensive understanding of the most remote ocean environments.

As these operations trend into deeper and more dangerous waters around the world, maritime intelligence will be crucial to help military and government agencies establish maritime domain awareness both above the surface and from the seafloor. By tapping blue technologies to enable autonomous persistent power and real-time communication, the nation can strengthen monitoring and enforcement against looming threats, such as detecting dangerous dark vessels conducting illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and ensure greater safety and security for offshore operations.

Other countries are already beginning to take advantage of the vast potential of the ocean. Chile, for example, is looking to diversify its energy mix to meet its carbon neutrality target by 2050 and has launched the Marine Energy Research and Innovation Centre to harness the power of marine renewable energy by establishing a center dedicated to the development of the industry through applied research and innovation.

This commitment to achieving a better understanding of the potential of ocean power laid the foundation for Ocean Power Technologies, for which I serve as President and CEO, to embark on a first-of-its-kind research and development effort by deploying our buoy technologies off the Chilean coast near Las Cruces to enable reliable offshore power and data collection to study the potential effect of marine energy under real-world sea conditions. And there’s tremendous opportunity to do the same here in the United States.

The United States is just beginning to scratch the surface of how the research and development of our ocean energy industry can further support our decarbonization efforts. As the Department of Energy, U.S. government agencies and key industry stakeholders gather at the International Conference of Ocean Energy, they can use this moment to double down on the need to accelerate the development of the ocean energy sector.

It is clear the Biden administration is committed to helping our nation get on track to combat the effects of climate change and is well aware that doing so will require the use of innovative solutions to meet clean energy standards. As the administration seeks to ensure a successful transition to clean energy, it should consider how accelerating ocean power and data can put the United States on the path to a more sustainable future.


George H. Kirby is the president and CEO of Ocean Power Technologies Inc.

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