However, the comprehensive energy bill that has been stalled in Congress for several years does not include ocean energy among its list of renewable resource eligible for tax credits, Weinstein says. The Bush administration has been unsuccessful in passing the energy policy because it includes a controversial provision that opens the Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
Across the Atlantic, however, the British parliament is actively supporting wave energy through funding programs and a new testing facility. The government established the European Marine Energy Centre in 2004 to test emerging technologies being developed by private companies .
“The U.K. has a national renewable energy strategy that is driven right from the top,” says Mike Rosenfeld, the vice consul of the British Consulate-General in Los Angeles.
Rosenfeld recently made a trip to the Northwest U.S. where he met with several U.S. wave energy companies to encourage them to test their technology at EMEC.
“The idea is that a U.S. marine energy developers have a good opportunity to tap into UK policies and funding mechanisms for testing and development, after it is proven, the technology can be brought back to the U.S.,” Rosenfeld says.
In addition to having greater energy potential than other renewable sources, ocean energy is viewed as more aesthetically pleasing. Wave energy systems “have less visual impact” than offshore wind farms because they are partially submerged, according to Cliff Goudey, director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Fisheries Engineering Research.
One challenge is that wave energy systems must be engineered to tolerate the sometimes volatile conditions of the ocean, Goudey says. “You need to have areas where the average waves are not that different from the extreme waves, and the devices have to design to withstand a storm, but also be efficient with average current,” he says.
If testing programs succeed, ocean energy could become cost-competitive with wind energy in as little as four years, according to EPRI’s Bedard. However, Bedard is doubtful that the current administration will have a sea change of opinion on ocean energy. “The administration is basically a coal and oil administration,” Bedard says.