Hydrokinetic Power a Long Way Off

August 17, 2011

The quest to make hydrokinetic power a source of U.S. energy and jobs
Julia Pyper

Today’s ClimateWire reports on the progress – or lack of it – in developing hydrokinetic power from underwater turbines that are driven by the flow of rivers, ocean currents, waves or tides. According to the article, the Electric Power Research Institute estimates that in the United States alone, new hydrokinetic technologies could provide an increase in generation capacity of 3,000 megawatts by 2025. Another study found hydrokinetic energy could supply 10 percent of America’s electricity needs. One of the higher profile projects is Verdant Power’s Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy project in New York’s East River, which successfully delivered power to businesses on Roosevelt Island, becoming the first grid-connected system of tidal turbines in the world. But the ClimateWire article also reports on a number of “challenges” that face hydrokinetic projects in the country, including lack of funding, unreliable turbines, and impacts on ecosystems from the projects. There are also long-term concerns about how this type of hydro energy would cope with droughts, flooding or more extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change. In May, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources passed legislation that would allocate up to $75 million in funding for all tidal, wave, ocean thermal and river-based projects. Companies and research facilities are currently required to match federal investments with private funding, however, and this funding has been difficult to secure. In addition to the economic challenges, ClimateWire reports notes that the legacy of traditional hydropower projects, such as large-scale dams, has made the regulatory system for all hydropower projects very complicated. To launch a hydrokinetic project, companies have to get approval from FERC, U.S. EPA, DOE, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers.