Riding the Wave: Confronting Jurisdictional and Regulatory Barriers to Ocean Energy Development

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Wave energy conversion (WEC) is a burgeoning form of hydrokinetic power which takes advantage of energy carried by ocean waves to generate electricity. The global energy potential from ocean energy resources is truly enormous; the International Energy Agency estimates the theoretical energy potential of wave power at 8,000 to 80,000 terawatt-hours (TWh), compared to the world’s yearly electricity demand of 19,855 TWh in 2007. Economically recoverable wave power is estimated to be 140 to 750 TWh/year for existing wave-capturing Locations with the greatest wave power potential include the western seaboard of Europe, the northern coast of the United Kingdom, and the Pacific coastlines of North and South America, Southern Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, thanks to long expanses of ocean with exposure to prevailing westerly winds that deliver powerful waves to these coasts.

From a national perspective, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates U.S. wave energy extraction potential to be roughly 200 gigawatts (GW). The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) approximates total available wave energy flux off of U.S. coastlines at 2,300 TWh per year, though only a fraction of that may be technically and economically recoverable, and over half of the resource is located off Alaska’s sparsely populated coasts. Developing fifteen percent of the nation’s wave energy resources and converting them to electricity at an average eighty-percent efficiency would generate 255 TWh. This equals approximately six and a half percent of total U.S. electricity generation, or enough electricity to power about twenty-five million homes — not an insubstantial contribution, to say the least.

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