DOE released on January 18 two resource assessments showing that waves and tidal coastal currents could contribute significantly to U.S. electricity production. The West Coast, including Alaska and Hawaii, has especially high potential for wave energy development, while significant opportunities for wave energy also exist along the East Coast. Additionally, parts of both coasts have strong tides that could be tapped to produce energy. Combined with other analyses, these assessments show that water power, including conventional hydropower, could provide 15% of U.S. electricity by 2030.
The United States uses about 4,000 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity per year. DOE estimates that the maximum theoretical electric generation that could be produced from waves and tidal currents is approximately 1,420 TWh per year, about one-third of the nation's total annual electricity use. Though not all of the resource potential identified in these assessments can realistically be developed, the results still represent major opportunities for new water power development, highlighting specific opportunities to expand on the 6% of the nation's electricity already generated from hydropower resources.
In addition to the wave and tidal resource assessments, DOE plans to release additional resource assessments for ocean current, ocean thermal gradients, and new hydropower resources in 2012. To support the development of technologies that can tap into these vast resources, DOE's Water Power Program is undertaking a detailed technical and economic assessment of a wide range of water power technologies in order to more accurately predict the opportunities and costs of developing and deploying these innovative technologies. The program is sponsoring more than 40 demonstration projects that will advance the commercial readiness of these systems; provide first-of-a-kind, in-water performance data that will validate cost-of-energy predictions; and identify pathways for large cost reductions. See the DOE Progress Alert and the Water Power Program website.