How Does the U.S. Ocean Energy Industry Compare with the Rest of the World?

I’ve heard the U.S. is behind other countries in developing ocean renewable technologies. Just how far are we behind and what is being done to catch up? –Terry N., New Haven, Connecticut

The International Energy Agency published a Report last year that shows the U.S. running second behind the U.K. in the number of ocean renewable technologies being developed.  According to the report, the United Kingdom is working on 29 different types of technologies while the U.S. is working on 13.  Canada and Norway are tied for third — each working on seven different types of technology.

Internationally, the number of technologies being developed has more than doubled from 2003 (35) to 2006 (81).  However, the federal government only recently acknowledged ocean renewables in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

At the moment there is no Production Tax Credit and no federal R&D funding for ocean renewables. The UK, Denmark, Portugal and other countries have provided hundreds of millions in government support for ocean renewable energy, including a USD $.295 per kW/hr feed-in tariff from Portugal. (The production tax credit for the U.S. wind industry gets less than two cents per kW/hr). Thus, using the standard of federal support, the U.S. is far behind more than just the United Kingdom.

The good news is that ocean renewables have begun to capture the attention of U.S. lawmakers and a number of ocean renewable bills are working their way through the halls of Congress. Washington Congressman Jay Inslee introduced a bill last month “to promote the development and use of marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy technologies.” The legislation has 17 co-sponsors. Oregon Congresswoman Darlene Hooley recently introduced a marine renewable energy research and development bill with nine co-sponsors.  West Virginia Congressman Nick Rahall has introduced a broad energy package that includes ocean renewables as part of the solution “to reduce our Nation’s dependency on foreign oil by investing in clean, renewable, and alternative energy resources, promoting new emerging energy technologies, developing greater efficiency, and creating a Strategic Energy Efficiency and Renewables Reserve to invest in alternative energy.”

There is also more support for ocean energy tax credits. Washington Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) has introduced a broad tax bill “to ensure more investment and innovation in clean energy technologies,” and Oregon Senators Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden have introduced a bill that would extend production tax credits to marine renewable projects.

Finally, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy & Water has allocated $6 million for “DOE ocean, tidal and in-stream generation RDD&D” in the Fiscal Year ’08 DOE budget. Many federal policy makers understand that diversity is key to realizing energy independence and combating climate change, so ocean renewables need to make up a significant portion of the nation’s future energy mix.

While all of these legislative activities remain subject to further votes and approvals, it’s clear that ocean renewables are gaining traction in the U.S. Once marine renewable energy has stable, long-term commitments from the U.S. government, the industry has great potential in this country.

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