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DOE Water Power Program FY 2018 Funding

Paul Gay, Friday, October 28, 2016

As a co-chair of the National Hydropower Association’s Marine Energy Council (MEC), I work with my colleagues to increase U.S. Federal Government funding to help commercialize the emerging marine renewable energy industry here in the United States and across the globe.  Therefore, I am very pleased to support the Marine Energy Council's recommendation to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that it include at least $125 million in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget submission for the newly established Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO).  The council also strongly supports efforts to ensure that the research, development and demonstration activities of the WPTO be informed by the needs of industry in order to sustain a long-term approach to technological innovation and system integration efforts. 


The United States has significant untapped marine renewable energy resources.  These wave, tidal, current and in-stream resources are capable of providing predictable, consistent clean renewable power and can materially contribute to the nation’s domestic energy supplies.  DOE’s own assessments have estimated that the technically extractable domestic marine renewable energy resource potential represents up to 25 percent of projected U.S. electricity generation requirements by 2050.

In addition to reliability and abundance, marine renewable energy is located near demand with the majority of the U.S. population living adjacent to significant wave, tidal, ocean current and in-river resources.  The location of marine energy resources not only reduces costs but also potential environmental impacts.  These benefits are enhanced by the potential for increased local economic growth for coastal and water-side communities.  For these reasons, marine energy holds tremendous potential to contribute to our future domestic energy needs while also addressing the nation’s security, economic and environmental goals.

A significant number of technology companies leading the effort to unlock this global resource are located or operating in the United States.  DOE’s efforts to date have played a significant role in enabling this economic development activity.  However, the U.S. has fallen behind Europe and Australia, the leading regional competitors.  Technology developers based in these regions benefit from significantly higher government investments dedicated towards both R&D and early commercial activities.  Without increasing its level of support, the U.S. risks forfeiting global technical leadership in this emerging energy sector.

In short, one of the most significant challenges to developing a robust domestic marine energy industry is the need to continually attract private investment during the pre-commercial stage.  Due to the timelines required and technical risk involved, private capital will not solely fund critical early stage research, development and demonstration efforts.  Material federal government investment is required. 

As was the case with other mature power generation technologies, an appropriate and consistent level of federal support is key to attracting private capital and igniting commercialization of the marine renewable energy industry.  These funds provide risk mitigation, technical review and early market development.  In addition, increased federal support for the marine energy sector can dramatically shift the cost of energy curve and position the U.S. as a global leader in the development of a new form of clean power generation.

Proposed Base Program Elements for the DOE Water Power Technologies Office

The Marine Energy Council recommends the following comprehensive, coordinated and prioritized set of program activities to leverage our nation’s vast marine renewable energy resources.  These recommendations build on past successes and lessons learned, while accelerating the state of the technology and contribution to the nation’s security, economic and environmental goals.

DOE should provide funding, balanced appropriately across the Technology Readiness Level spectrum, preferably at an 80/20 cost share utilizing a Broad Agency Announcement model, that helps marine energy system and sub-system developers drive down costs and improve efficiencies.  The MEC views the top priorities for the industry as:

  • New funding opportunities for technology advancement (design) and demonstration (construction & testing) of high-potential systems
  • New funding opportunities for sub-system advancements, such as Advanced Controls, Power Take Offs, Optimized Structures, Deployment, mooring, shore connection, O&M and construction cost reductions
  • Increased availability of testing facilities for all types of marine energy systems
  • Development of near-term national deployment goals for marine energy systems (similar to other EERE and international renewable energy programs)
  • Refined resource assessments
  • Utility engagement/Device Verification Program
  • Development of international standards and conformity-assessment procedures, with significant U.S. participation
  • DOE-led interagency/interjurisdictional permitting support for marine energy demonstration activities
  • Support initiatives that promote domestic coordination and communication, international partnerships and knowledge transfer, export funding and marketing

Support for New Applications

  • Off-Grid Power. The Department, in coordination with other federal agencies, should expand the commercial value of power generated from marine energy devices beyond grid-connected electricity.  Also, the DOE Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability should coordinate with the Water Power R&D program on developing methods and tools for the further integration of intermittent renewable energy resources with conventional hydropower and marine energy systems.
  • Oil & Gas Sector. The Fossil Energy Office and its related laboratory should work with the DOE Water Program to develop and demonstrate the use of marine energy systems to reduce emissions and improve energy efficiencies related to offshore oil and gas production.  The Department should explore, demonstrate, and support the deployment of marine energy devices to meet offshore exploration and production power needs, particularly for sea-borne and sub-sea infrastructure, including heating and cooling, sensors and controls, and safety inspection and early-warning detection.  DOE should also coordinate with the Department of the Interior (Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement; Technology Assessment & Research Program)
  • Early Adopter Challenge. With federal support, demonstrations in early-adopter markets can lead to transformative reductions in LCOE, system performance, and utility acceptance of marine energy systems.  Commercialization in early-adopter, distributed applications is not the ultimate objective of most developers, nor can it be the ultimate objective of federal support.  However, such applications can be a stepping-stone to reducing LCOE.  Demonstrations in distributed markets will provide important opportunities for learning and advance technology towards viable utility-scale deployment in grid-connected markets.  Commercial demonstrations also provide industry with practical experience and the insight to recognize the potential impact of transformative technologies and need for a robust supply chain and trained personnel.

Promotion and Outreach

  • Survey industry and communicate planned funding opportunities in annual President’s Budget Request
  • Consider pilot funding program using broad-agency announcements vs. specific funding opportunity announcements
  • Leverage international experience and cooperation. DOE should accelerate commercial pathways for marine energy technology growth by developing and implementing agreements with non-U.S. funding entities to support technology development, demonstration and deployment activities of mutual interest.  Existing cooperative agreements, including memorandums of understanding, should be strengthened to allow funding and other support of value to be exchanged and leveraged.  Cooperative instruments should also be developed to encourage the participation of non-U.S. research centers and their end-users to participate in U.S. funding opportunities and the participation of US research centers and end-users in non-U.S. funding opportunities.
  • Create an enhanced and balanced deployment program – “Water Powering America” – similar to what DOE has supported for solar, geothermal, wind, clean vehicles, and biomass
  • Fund state/regional level collaborative efforts to promote marine renewable energy
  • Monthly program e-newsletter to promote industry and program highlights
  • Create advocacy award program for industry/government/utility supporters

Support for Marine Energy Council

  • Increase support and participation in the annual International Marine Renewable Energy Conference held in Washington along with a potential U.S. application to host ICOE in 2019 or 2020.
  • Direct support to MEC for critical activities. DOE support is sought for technical information gathering, reporting and exchanges that would significantly advance the state of marine energy technologies and the role they will play in meeting national, regional and local energy, economic, and environmental goals.  As a national trade association, the MEC is uniquely situated to serve at the helm of these efforts. 

Program Planning & Management

  • Marine Energy Roadmap. Insight into the DOE’s longer-term plans for the industry, as well as the factors by which projects will be evaluated, would help stakeholders in determining the funding opportunities for which they are best-positioned to apply.  At a high level, the MEC continues to reiterate the importance of DOE’s commitment to industry-led R&D and to prioritize a plan for the commercialization of marine energy technologies.  The MEC also wants to work closely with DOE to develop an achievable multi-year technology development, testing and deployment roadmap for the industry, using the HydroVision and the 25% Wind by 2030 processes as models.
  • Industry Engagement. DOE should arrange and encourage regular coordinating calls with industry representatives and general/topical face-to-face engagements.  DOE should also ensure industry input into the following strategic planning activities including Program Execution Planning, Techno‐Economic Assessment, Quadrennial Technology Review, Marine Energy Strategy Request for Information, Biennial Program Peer Review, and external merit review of new laboratory projects.


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