This is Part II of my three-part interview with John Miller, director of the Marine Renewable Energy Center.
ROBERT GLUCK: Your website says MREC's purpose is "to foster the growth of marine renewable energy; tidal, wave, offshore wind and others in New England through research, development and demonstration." Let's start with research and development. What's new in that area?
First generation marine enegy systems largely look like converted wind mills. Water is 800 times more dense than air, and the ocean environment is very harsh so the challenges today are on survivability. I believe second and third generation systems will become more efficient and cost effective.
RG: Explain to our readers who may not know the difference between "tidal" and "wave" energy.
JM: To start, I want to emphasize that we see wind as an integral part of our efforts as Massachusetts has the best offshore wind potential in the US.
Tidal energy involves harnessing the movement of a current of water by putting something "in stream," as opposed to a dam. Initially this is focused on tidal areas with most systems needing greater than 5 knots of velocity to be economically viable, but with greater efficiency these could be used in rivers or even ocean currents, like the Gulf Stream.
Wave energy harnesses the movement of waves, which while appearing relatively consistent are extremely variable and expend energy in motion in several directions.
A key point about tidal and wave energy is that they are able to generate energy a greater percentage of the time than renewables like solar and terrestrial wind, and they are more predictable. These are key elements in ensuring that grid operators have sources that can continuously provide power and, therefore, allow them to take dirty generation plans offline.
RG: In terms of demonstrations, where and when will MREC be demonstrating these renewable energies? Are these demonstrations well attended? Please fill our readers in on the details of a past demonstration and one coming up in the near future they might be able to attend.
JM: The aim is to get a product that will work reliably over months and years, like your local utility, so demonstrations are intended to be long periods in the ocean, where they are not always easy to observe. To protect the often fragile environments in the ocean, the regulatory hurdles to getting technology in the water are estimated to be up to 70% of a demonstration.
Our goal is to develop permanent pre-permitted test sites with close environmental monitoring where developers can get technology into the water faster and cheaper. Currently the only established test site for wave and tidal energy in the world is in Scotland at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC). The US needs its own test sites.
RG: Last week (April 14-15) was the Global Marine Renewable Energy Conference in Seattle. What was the main topic on the agenda this year?
JM: This year’s conference was subtitled "Diverse, Predictable, Sustainable Ocean Renewable Energy," and I think the theme really was diversity. The panels emphasized that there is a lot of work going on around the world the harness hydrokinetics, energy from moving water, with governments, universities, and companies working on a wide range of technologies.
The missing piece so far is private funding. These technologies require large capital investments and long time horizons; these conditions don't fit the standard Venture Capital model so new funding models need to be developed.
RG: Why are these types of conferences good for your industry?
JM: In the day-to-day battles of managing programs and finding funding, its difficult to stop and get perspective on the industry. For me these conferences provide the chance to take a breath, see what industry, academia and government are doing, and have discussions about how we can work together more effectively.
They also provide an opportunity for people who are either focused on one area or maybe are new to the industry, to get exposed to a lot of information on all phases of the industry in a short time.
At our conference in Boston in November, we will have panels to review progress in other countries, see what our federal and state governmental agencies are doing, and talk about considerations for siting projects. These are the subjects that our stakeholders need to understand. There will also be opportunities for companies developing products to pitch their opportunities to investors.
You can read the first portion of my interview with John Miller, here:
Learn about tidal energy at eBoom's Emerging Energy Learning Page.
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