Marine energy projects get water leases

The Minerals Management Service, part of the U.S. Department of Interior, just issued 11 five-year leases to offshore wind and marine energy projects. This is part of the department’s goal to accelerate the development of water-based energy harvesting on the Outer Continental Shelf, and it includes ocean current technologies, wave energy harvesting, and offshore wind farms, and eventually aims to cover solar energy and hydrogen production, as well. Sixteen sites were chosen this past April, and the remaining five leases will be awarded by the end of the year. (The 11 proposals granted leases were for sites that only received one bid.) 

The purpose of these leases is to allow companies to install data collection and technology testing facilities in federal waters, and they will not immediately lead to commercial development. The sites lie off the coasts of New Jersey, Delaware, and Georgia on the eastern seaboard, and in Florida and northern California waters. The Minerals Management Service is also the one to turn to for your offshore drilling and marine mining permissions, so the service eventually intends to allow commercial development – much like how the Bureau of Land Management controls the installation of solar and wind projects on public lands through developer leases. However, marine energy lags at least a decade behind these other, more entrenched alternative energy technologies. Just as wind studies conducted on land help remove the financial risk of building wind turbines on a new property for wind energy developers, these initial technology assessments are intended to help nascent marine energy companies gather the data they need to make a business case for themselves.

Most of the projects awarded will be exploring offshore wind potential. Thankfully, at least one technology company chosen is not as prosaic – Aquantis will be collecting ocean current data and hopes to deploy its funky “c-planes” off the coast of Florida. Details are sketchy, but a c-plane appears to produce hydroelectric power without relying on the usual river + dam concept. Instead, two drivetrains (powered by a submarine electric power cable connected to a land-based substation) in each c-plane send high-pressure, high-volume ocean water to shore through aqueducts, where it is used to turn a turbine. And in California, Pacific Gas & Electric is another exception – it will be monitoring wave resources.

The five sites that received more than one bid will be interesting to watch – several of the proposals are also for ocean current data collection activities, so Aquantis may not be alone for long.