Harnessing The Ocean's Power: Opportunities In Renewable Ocean Energy Resources
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 brought a renewed focus on finding the least environmentally harmful and most cost-effective solutions to our society’s energy needs. Seventy-one percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by its oceans. In the last century, much attention has been focused on submarine hydrocarbon deposits, such as the extensive natural gas and oil reserves situated under the outer continental shelf (OCS). “The OCS is a significant source of oil and gas for the Nation’s energy supply,” with leases for 43 million acres of the OCS providing 15 percent of America’s domestic natural gas production and 27 percent of America’s domestic oil production. Oil and natural gas are not the only energy resources held by our oceans; the Earth’s oceans contain vast stores of energy, much of which can be harnessed to create usable power in the form of electricity. Beyond these hydrocarbon mineral resources, the ocean offers great potential for the extraction of renewable energy. Analyses of the renewable energy generation potential of the oceans suggest harnessable energy far in excess of global electricity demands. Moreover, it is estimated that more than half of the population of the United States lives near or on the coast. This fact of geography and demography points to the great potential for using ocean energy resources to provide useful power to society. As the United States moves toward an increased reliance on lower-carbon fuels and the production of renewable energy, demand for renewable ocean energy resources is growing. These resources include the generation of electricity from offshore wind, tides, currents and waves, as well as capturing usable power from ocean thermal energy gradients. This Article provides a unique overview of the opportunities for the production of usable power from ocean energy resources other than oil and gas, as well as the legal regimes applicable to, and policy questions relating to that production. Part I covers the diverse array of technologies available for the extraction of energy from ocean resources, and illustrates selected examples of ocean energy projects in operation or under development. Part II addresses the patchwork of legal regimes governing ocean energy development in United States waters. Part III summarizes key tools and incentives that states and the federal government can and do employ to further ocean energy development. Part IV focuses on the question of whether ocean renewable power can be cost-competitive, using case studies to analyze that question. Part V covers policy questions that must be answered as society moves forward to tap the ocean’s energy resources. In summary, this Article offers a comprehensive characterization of the oceans’ potential to produce renewable power, as well as an analysis of how the current fragmented regulatory framework may be hampering development of these resources’ full potential. It offers recommendations for consolidating regulatory review of renewable ocean energy projects to reduce regulatory risk and enable renewable ocean energy to become more a cost-competitive component of the nation’s energy resources.