Capturing Energy from the Motion of the Ocean in a Crowded Sea
Conversion to renewable energy sources is a logical response to the 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 the 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 the 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 the existing power grids. We also identified multiple potential conflicts, including commercial fishing, shipping and transportation, and marine conservation areas. While wave energy generation facilities may be economically viable, we must also incorporate costs associated with conflicts that arise with the existing marine uses.