UK Government Funds Major Marine Energy Study: What About U.S. ?

UK Climate Change Minister announced to a conference this week that the UK government will begin screening for the marine energy projects in England and Wales. The screening is part of an effort by the United Kingdom to become a world leader in wave and marine technology.

“It’s a signal really that we are very serious about marine (energy),” said Lord Hunt, the UK Climate Change Minister.

Photo Credit:pirate_reneeOcean Tide
Ocean Tide

As part of a larger effort to cut its 1990 national carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, Britain recently announced Β£405 million ($600 million) in support of low-carbon technologies. A similar fund set up 3 years ago with Β£50 million ($74 million) has been used to fund a current project that was only able to operate for 3 months out of the past year due to poor ocean conditions.

Officially called a Strategic Environmental Assessment, mandated by the EU for any major infrastructure projects, the screening is slated for completion in 2011. The aim of the current screening is to open new channels for commercial projects involving wave and tidal energy in both countries with the goal of creating jobs in the renewable energy sector.

“It will open Britain’s coast line and estuaries to clean, green energy that will help power a low carbon economy,” said the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA).

By comparison, the United States is doing little to harness the power off American shores.

Locally, San Francisco commissioned its own study on tidal energy possibilities in 2007. Funded primarily by a $1.5 million pledge from PG&E, the study looked at submerging turbines under the Golden Gate Bridge to harness tidal energy.

A press release announcing the study said,”PG&E’s exploration of tidal energy sources supports the company’s existing efforts to aggressively increase supplies of renewable energy for its customers.”
The current California renewable portfolio standard requires utilities to obtain 20% percent of their energy from renewables by 2010. According to the most recent procurement status on the Renewable Portfolio Standard website California’s three largest energy companies obtained an average of 12.7% of their 2007 retail electricity sales through renewable power.
In late 2008 a California Commission denied PG&E’s request to develop and purchase energy with Finavera, a Canadian clean energy company. A Finavera wave energy test buoy sunk off the coast of Oregon last October, though company representatives said it was a floatation problem and the wave energy technology was successful.

If studies continue to be inconclusive, subsidies remain hard to come by and projects end up not working, California’s renewable energy will have to come from the shore and not the sea. UK and EU subsidies make large-scale tidal power projects more cost-effective and realistic. But there is hope for the U.S. and California. In his recent Earth Day speech, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a new Department of the Interior program to support energy from ocean currents:

“Through the Department of the Interior we are establishing a program to authorize for the very first time the leasing of federal waters for projects to generate electricity from wind as well as from ocean currents and other renewable sources. This will open the door to major investments in offshore clean energy.”

Perhaps the tide will turn in favor of developing tidal energy projects in the U.S. as it has in the UK. For now, the British government will forge ahead with screening and research to expand its renewable energy portfolio.

“We have to make everything to support that sector. That’s what we are doing with marine,” said Lord Hunt.

Written by Scott James

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