153 OES Annual Report 2015 | UNITED STATES OF AMERICA | Ocean energy policy
Annual Report 2015
Country Reports


Alison LaBonte U.S. Department of Energy

Marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) technologies capture the energy of waves and currents (e.g., tides, ocean currents, or in-stream river flows). With more than 50% of the U.S. population living within 50 miles of U.S. coastlines, MHK technologies hold significant potential to supply renewable electricity to these consumers, particularly in areas with high costs of electricity. U.S. MHK resource assessments identify a technical resource potential of up to 1,250-1,850 terawatt-hours (TWh) of generation per year.

For context, approximately 90,000 homes can be powered by one TWh of electricity generation each year. A cost-effective MHK industry could provide a substantial amount of electricity for the United States due in large part to its unique advantages as a source of energy, such as its vast resource potential, its close proximity to major coastal load centers, and its predictability.



The mission of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Water Power Program is to research, test, evaluate, develoP and demonstrate innovative technologies capable of generating renewable, environmentally responsible and costeffective electricity from water resources. As laid out in the 2015 Quadrennial Technology Review, the strategy has parallel approaches to address two complementary opportunities: (1) near-term deployment in early-adopter markets; and (2) long-term deployment in large, utility-scale markets. The Program’s investments along these two parallel approaches fall in the following four major focus areas:

  1. Technology Advancement and Demonstration: Provide the support and incentive to incubate revolutionary concepts. Prove technical credibility; catalyse device design evolution; and optimize performance through, for example, application of optimized controls, Power Take-Off, and structure components to double annual energy production and increase availability.
  2. Testing Infrastructure and Instrumentation Development: Strengthen MHK device quality and reliability, provide affordable access to facilities for testing, and develop robust instrumentation and sensors.
  3. Resource Assessment and Characterization: Classify the U.S. MHK resource, disseminate resource data to stakeholders, and develop numerical modelling tools to predict loading conditions. Quantify and classify environmental conditions to reduce siting risk.
  4. Market Acceleration and Deployment: Research environmental risk mitigation, boost investor confidence, and reduce regulatory barriers through examination of effects on aquatic organisms (blade strike, collision, entanglement, noise, electromagnetic fields, species behaviour) and effects on physical systems (hydrodynamic and sediment transport dynamic modelling for both wave and current) are needed.

To facilitate this work, the Water Power Program supports a strong research, development and demonstration (RD&D) project portfolio. The Program also leverages capabilities at DOE national laboratories to spur innovation in promising research areas, identifies cost reduction pathways, and has built coordinated partnerships with other government agencies that are breaking new ground for the industry.


Several key pieces of U.S. federal legislation that would help to advance the MHK industry are currently under consideration:

  • The Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Act of 2013 (S. 1419) was introduced in August 2013 and has been recommended by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for full consideration by the Senate. Sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden and cosponsored by Senators Lisa Murkowski and Angus King, this bill would promote research, development, and demonstration of MHK renewable energy technologies.
  • The Renewable Electricity Standard Act of 2013 (S. 1595) and the American Renewable Energy and Efficiency Act (S. 1627), both pending in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, would each create a renewable electricity standard that would apply to all renewable energy sources.
  • The Climate Protection Act of 2013 (S. 332) would enable the Environmental Protection Agency to establish a ‘Sustainable Technologies Finance Program’ that would alleviate cost burdens for ocean, tidal, or hydropower energy projects through loans, credit instruments, and loan guarantees. This bill is sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders and is under consideration by the Committee on Environment and Public Works.
  • The Prioritizing Energy Efficient Renewables Act of 2013 (H.R. 2539) would permanently extend the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit for wind, geothermal, hydro, and marine power. It would also eliminate the tax credit for intangible drilling costs, the domestic manufacturing tax credit for oil and gas, as well as the percentage depletion credit for oil and gas wells. Sponsored by Representative Jan Schakowsky and 22 other cosponsors, this bill is currently under consideration by the House Committee on Ways and Means.
  • The Advancing Offshore Wind Production Act (H.R. 1398), sponsored by Representative Rob Wittman, would set a 30-day timeline for the Secretary of the Interior to act on permits for all weather testing and monitoring projects in the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. This bill includes a provision that would apply this timeline to tidal and ocean current energy projects. This bill has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.


The MHK incentives offered in the United States are the Federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) and the Business Energy Investment Tax Credit (ITC). The PTC, which provides a 1.1 cents per kilowatt- hour (kWh) tax credit for MHK technologies, has recently been extended through 2016 for projects that are at least 150 kW in nameplate capacity. The ITC allows tidal energy projects to opt for a tax credit equal to 10% of capital expenditures in lieu of the PTC. There is no Investment Tax Credit for MHK technologies other than tidal.

At the state level, MHK technologies are an eligible energy resource under 20 states’ renewable portfolio
standards and voluntary renewable energy goals. MHK technologies also benefit from state funding opportunities, such as the Alaska Energy Authority’s Emerging Technology Fund and Renewable Energy Fund and the Oregon Wave Energy Trust.

Because MHK energy is an early stage market and there are currently limited incentives for investment, the Water Power Program has a clear role in expediting the development and deployment of innovative MHK technologies. The Program focuses on investing in technologies with a credible potential for lowering the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) below the local hurdle price at which MHK can compete with other regional generation sources. In the near term, the focus is on early-adopter high-hurdle rate markets and in the longerterm the focus is on competitiveness at utility scale in regional markets. The Program makes investments that mitigate risks, support key technology innovations, and assist the private sector in creating a robust U.S. MHK industry by providing funding and technical assistance.

The completion of national assessments of U.S. wave, tidal, ocean current, river in-stream, and ocean
thermal energy resources has resulted in an emphasis in technology development efforts of the abundant national wave energy resource.

The Water Power Program’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 annual budget for MHK RD&D was maintained at $41.3 million from FY 2014. Most of the funding in FY 2015 was directed toward Focus Area 1: Technology Advancement and Demonstration.

Through competitive funding solicitations, or Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs), the Water Power Program identifies and funds qualified projects within specific topic areas and subtopics that support program objectives, depending on available funds. In evaluating all proposals for new energy developments or new adaptations of existing technology, the Program rigorously assesses whether individual applications clearly demonstrate that the proposed advances can reasonably lead to a reduction in the total cost of energy produced when compared to other technologies.

In FY 2015, the Water Power Program allocated $17.9 million of the $41.3 million to new FOAs for MHK RD&D projects that aim to address key technical and market barriers to deployment in the United States. Together, these projects will increase the power production and reliability of MHK devices and help gather valuable data on how deployed devices interact with the surrounding environment. The Program made the following awards to a variety of recipient types, including private industry and universities:

  • MHK System Performance Advancement II: $7.4 million to spur innovation of next-generation water power component technologies designed for manufacturability and built specifically for MHK systems.
  • Durability and Survivability: $10.5 million to support the design and operation of innovative MHK systems through survivability and reliability-related improvements.

MHK System Performance Advancement: In August 2015, four entities were selected to receive a total of $7.4 million to address technical challenges in three areas: advanced controls, crosscutting Power Take-Off. Re Vision Consulting, LLC, will develop an optimal control system that predicts ocean conditions and adjusts device settings accordingly to optimize power production for three different wave energy converter (WEC) devices. Virginia Tech will develop and test a novel mechanical solution for converting from alternating current to direct current power by transforming the back-and-forth wave movement into a single-directional movement to more efficiently capture wave energy. Dehlsen Associates, LLC, will develop a linear generator capable of supplying a WEC device with power to implement advanced controls. Pennsylvania State University will develop a low-cost, single-piece, three-blade composite turbine with integrated "health management" technology that uses diagnostic and predictive technologies to evaluate the health of mechanical and electrical systems during operation.

Durability and Survivability: In December 2015, six organizations were selected to receive a total of $10.5 million to improve the survivability characteristics and reduce uncertainty regarding installation, operations, and maintenance of MHK systems operating in potentially harsh marine conditions, thus extending their lifespans and ultimately leading to a reduction in the cost of MHK-derived energy. Dehlsen Associates, LLC, is developing a WEC comprised of multiple pods that use common components to achieve economies of scale and improve its survivability characteristics, thus significantly reducing the cost of energy derived from the WEC. M3 Wave LLC will develop modelling tools to explore ways to minimize effects of sediment transport, such as water erosion, displacement, and tilting of their WEC that sits on the ocean floor and captures energy from the pressure waves beneath ocean waves. Oscilla Power, Inc. is developing a WEC consisting of a surface float that is tethered to a base suspended in the water, which aims to optimize storm-survival configurations, thus decreasing the loads the device experiences during extreme conditions and lowering the resulting cost of energy. Columbia Power Technologies, Inc. will develop and deploy a streamlined, cost-effective installation and recovery process that includes design updates and process improvements related to IO&M. Igiugig Village Council will work with Ocean Renewable Power Company to develop a river turbine system that will demonstrate IO&M design improvements to simplify maintenance and make system components more durable during operations in southwestern Alaska. Verdant Power, Inc. will complete their TriFrame foundation, which optimizes turbine spacing and support structures to allow for cost-effective IO&M.

Under DOE Small Business Innovation Research and Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) program, DOE funded four Phase I projects in 2015 at $150,000 each to help small businesses develop prognostic and health monitoring systems for MHK devices. The period of performance for these projects is nine months, after which the projects will be eligible to compete for up to $1 million in Phase II funding. Commercial-scale MHK energy converters are large, often highly complex devices operating in a harsh marine environment, and servicing these devices at sea is a difficult and costly operation. Advanced prognostic and health monitoring systems help to anticipate and identify relevant changes to device health, minimize the unscheduled maintenance and failure frequency, and decrease LCOE through reduced maintenance costs and increased device availability.

In addition to the Water Power Program’s work, the National Ocean Council continues to promote regional ocean planning efforts in the United States, notably with a group of regional planning bodies that coordinate ocean activities and develop marine spatial plans for their regions. Similarly, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management within the U.S. Department of the Interior has established a series of state task forces to lead planning efforts for marine renewable energy in a number of states with MHK resources, including Oregon and Hawaii.


While significant progress has been made to expedite the permitting process for MHK technologies in the United States, especially for pilot scale and research projects, the amount of time, finances, and other resources required to navigate the permitting process remains a challenge for many MHK projects. To help ensure that the regulatory community has access to the most recent, amalgamated information regarding MHK systems and environmental research, the Water Power Program sponsored a MHK regulator training workshop in May 2015.

Testing infrastructure and instrumentation development represents one of the four major focus areas for the Water Power Program. Test facilities are intended to offer a wide range of testing services that address both technical and nontechnical barriers of MHK systems. Prototype testing is essential to advance existing wave technologies, validating performance against analytic models, and demonstrating compliance with applicable design standards. Testing mitigates the technical and financial risk of developing and deploying massproduced wave energy devices, plants, technologies, and related products. By spearheading the development of a testing infrastructure, the Program ensures that many more prototypes from a diverse set of technology developers can be tested than if each technology developer had to carry the cost of developing, permitting and installing their own test facility. As a result, superior technologies that could have failed due to insufficient funds have a chance to succeed.

Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site (WETS): The U.S. Naval Facilities Engineering Command operates an openocean wave energy test site facility located at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. The existing facility consists of infrastructure to support offshore testing of a point absorber or oscillating water column device with up to a three-point mooring configuration. The Navy previously operated a grid-connected test berth at a depth of 30 meters, however in 2015, construction was completed for two additional grid-connected test berths at the at 60-meter and 80-meter depths for 100 kW to 1 MW WECs.

National Marine Renewable Energy Centers (NMRECs): In 2015, the Water Power Program continued to support the NMRECs, which provide domestic expertise in MHK device testing and the evaluation of environmental performance data, ultimately providing the necessary level of confidence to enable the private financing of commercial generation plants.

Pacific Marine Energy Center (PMEC) – Wave and RiverTest Facility: Pacific Marine Energy Center (PMEC) is the marine energy converter testing facilities arm of the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC). Just as the European Marine Energy Center has a variety of sites based on scale and technology, PMEC will encompass the range of test facilities available to the marine energy industry. For wave energy testing, PMEC supports two operational test sites: the North Energy Test Site (NETS) off the coast of Newport, Oregon and Lake Washington in Seattle, Washington. NETS has a mobile Ocean Sentinel test buoy that facilitates open-ocean, stand-alone testing of WEC devices with average power outputs up to 100 kW. The Lake Washington site is operated by the University of Washington in Seattle, and tested Oscilla Power’s wave energy technology in 2013. In 2014, NNMREC was joined by University of Alaska Fairbanks, and PMEC now includes the Tanana River Hydrokinetic Test Site in Alaska. Oceana Energy Company tested their turbine technology at the Tanana River site in 2014.

Pacific Marine Energy Center - South Energy Test Site (PMEC-SETS) and the California Wave Energy Test Center (CalWave) – Wave and Tidal Test Facilities under development: In 2015, with $1.5 million in additional funding from the Water Power Program, NNMREC and California Polytechnic State University continued developing preliminary designs and cost estimates for full scale, open-ocean, grid-connected wave energy test facilities, PMEC-SETS and CalWave. The Program will use the results of these projects for planning and budgeting of a domestic wave energy test facility. PMEC-SETS is located off the coast of Oregon, and has submitted preliminary permitting documents. Following construction, PMEC-SETS would serve as the utility-scale, grid-connected wave energy test facility for evaluating WEC device performance, environmental interactions, and survivability. CalWave has investigated and characterized several potential locations for a wave energy site offshore of Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California. Researchers will continue preliminary design and cost estimates for a selected location and begin the permitting process in 2016.

Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center (SNMREC) – Ocean Current Test Facility: SNMREC is working to advance research in open-ocean current systems by building the capability, infrastructure, and strategic partnerships necessary to support technology developers on the path to commercialization. In 2014, SNMREC signed a five-year lease agreement with the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and expects to test small scale commercial ocean current turbines during 2016. During 2015, SNMREC performed sea floor surveys for the offshore test berth lease and installed coastal radar to better characterize the Gulf Stream for commercial power production.

Hawaii National Marine Renewable Energy Center (HINMREC) – Wave and Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) Test Facility: HINMREC’s mission is to facilitate the development and commercialization of WEC devices and to assist the private sector with moving ocean thermal energy conversion systems beyond proof-of-concept to pre-commercialization. HINMREC will support the Navy in testing WEC devices at the Navy’s two new test berths at WETS at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. HINMREC will assess the power performance of WEC devices, including but not limited to Ocean Energy USA’s and Northwest Energy Innovations’ FOA R&D projects. HINMREC will also determine acoustic and electromagnetic field outputs at the WETS, which will contribute to the environmental impact assessment of WEC devices and other MHK technologies.