Marine renewables get focus at OTC
The Offshore Technology Conference is focusing on integrating marine renewables into its overall program, offering nine technical sessions — the most ever — on the topic.
Paul S. Jones and OTC board member, spoke with the Houston Chronicle about the the marine renwables fields, challenges and opportunities it presents, and ways in which it relates to current offshore technologies.
Jones is principal at Lockbridge Energy, a consulting firm. He retired from Chevron in 2017 after a thirty-three-year career in enngineering and management. Edited excerpts of the interview follow:
Q. What are marine renewables?
A. Basically, “marine renewables” is a collective term that encompasses energy from a number of different resources all of which are found in the marine environment. There are six major classes of these resources. The first is offshore wind. The second is tidal. The third is offshore currents. Then there are waves, “ocean thermal energy,” and a bucket of capabilities we call “salinity gradient power.”
All of these renewable energy sources yield kinetic and potential energy, and these two types of energy can be used to drive turbines, produce electricity, and so on.
Q. Why are marine renewables gaining inteest at OTC?
A. They are gaining interest because, globally, a significant portion of the world’s energy supply is developed by renewable energies. And, in the future, we are going to require both traditional hydrocarbon-based energies as well as marine renewables from offshore and onshore to meet the world’s energy demands.
Significant progress has been made in the last 20 years, particularly in Europe, in making some of these new and novel technologies both economic and viable. We’re seeing that experience, which germinated in Europe, moving around the rest of the world, and there’s a lot of interest globally and more and more in the U.S.
Some of the premier technological challenges in marine renewables have been addressed and are being addressed by the oil and gas industry, as well as certain sectors of the marine renewables industry. Over the last 50 years, offshore capabilities have been developed for hydrocarbon production, and a lot of those technologies migrate nicely to the development of marine renewable energy.
Q. Which of the six types of marine renewables are the most promising?
A. That’s an interesting question. There are certainly advocates for all of these types. The most promising type is really environment-dependent: If you have significant tides, then tidal energy looks really good. If you have a windy environment, then offshore wind obviously takes precedence. All these types of energies will be utilizable somewhere.
If we were to look globally right now, offshore wind is certainly the most popular. That is primarily because the technology required to monetize and develop the offshore wind sector is more mature than in other areas. But quite a few OTC sponsors are very interested in the other technologies as well.
Q. Are there many new business opportunities in the marine renewables field?
A. I can’t answer that from a business opportunity perspective, but there is a lot of excitement in this space, and a lot of traditional engineering and traditional investment is being focused on offshore renewables. In terms of an opportunity portfolio, it looks good. From a technology perspective, some real challenges need to be addressed.
It’s much harder to build, maintain and utilize renewable infrastructure offshore. Most wind turbines are basically in shallow water where turbines can be placed on a structure that sits on the seabed. In deeper waters — 50, 60, 100 meters of water depth — floating technologies are required. On the whole, deep water floating capabilities are a technological challenge. That challenge has been addressed in the oil and gas industry and could transfer easily, albeit with some specialization, to the offshore wind industry.
Q. How quickly could wind energy capability be integrated into the world’s total energy requirements?
A. In Europe, it’s been done. Since probably 2010 onwards, there’s been investment and integration of offshore wind farms specifically into general electricity generation in various parts of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, etc. For the U.S., it’s a relatively new field.
There is only one offshore wind farm in the US, in Rhode Island, but currently over 30 projects are being planned or developed. Many challenges need to be addressed — economic, geopolitical, and environmental considerations, for example. But the U.S. is looking forward, and there’s a great opportunity here.