Coastal Renewable Energy

California Current Project

Capturing energy from the motion of the ocean in a crowded sea

If we wish to reduce our annual greenhouse gas emissions by increasing the level of renewable energy resources off the nation’s coasts, we must carefully integrate economics, resource conflicts, and physical, ecological and sociological impacts of renewable energy development. In this project, we have made inroads to the economics and resource conflicts surrounding wave energy development on the west coast of the United States. Much more work still needs to be done before we can move forward, and marine planning is a powerful tool for addressing such complex demands in an integrated fashion.

Conversion to renewable energy sources is a logical response to increasing pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Ocean wave energy is the least developed renewable energy source, despite having the highest energy per unit area. While many hurdles remain in developing wave energy, assessing potential conflicts and evaluating tradeoffs with existing uses is essential. Marine planning encompasses a broad array of activities that take place in and affect large marine ecosystems, making it an ideal tool for evaluating wave energy resource use conflicts. In this study, we used a spatially explicit, open source decision support tool to evaluate wave energy facility development off the U.S. West Coast. We then used this output to identify potential conflicts between wave energy facilities and existing marine uses in the context of marine planning. We found that regions with the highest wave energy potential were distant from major cities and that infrastructure limitations (cable landing sites) restrict integration with existing power grids (Fig. 1). We also identified multiple potential conflicts, including commercial fishing, shipping and transportation, and marine conservation areas (Fig. 2). While wave energy generation facilities may be economically viable, we must also incorporate costs associated with conflicts that arise with existing marine uses.

    1. 1. Plummer, ML & BE Feist (2016) Capturing energy from the motion of the ocean in a crowded sea. Coastal Management 44(5): 464-485. DOI: 10.1080/08920753.2016.1208877



Figure 1Figure 2

Figures 1 & 2: Maps of resource conflict scores between all resource uses and positive net present value InVEST WEM grid cells in the 40-200m depth range along the west coast of the United States. Brown regions on land indicate urban areas with population density > 1,000 km2.