Obama Administration Tapping the Ocean As An Energy Source

By Susan Jones | August 30, 2013 | 11:07 AM EDT

The Obama administration is funding projects that aim to convert ocean waves into electricity. (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Energy Department is  spending $16 million in an attempt to harness energy from ocean waves and tides.

But just as wind turbines kill birds, wave- and tide-generated energy may harm fish. So more than half of the projects announced on Thursday -- nine out of 17 -- will examine environmental concerns, including how wave and tidal devices may affect fish and other marine life.

The Obama administration believes that wave and tidal energy is a "large, untapped resource for the United States" and that "responsible development of this clean, renewable energy source is an important part of our all-of-the-above energy strategy,” said Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy David Danielson.

Of the $16 million total, $13.5 million is going to eight projects that aim to develop new  and efficient drive-train, generator and structural components as well as software that predicts ocean conditions and adjusts device settings to capture the most energy possible.

The taxpayer money is supposed to help companies find "affordable" ways to tap into the movement of large volumes of water and convert mechanical energy into electricity.

Another $2.4 million is going to "responsible and sustainable energy development." This means fish and other marine life.

For example, the University of Maine at Orono will study the interaction of fish with turbines "to predict the probability of fish encountering marine and hydrokinetic devices."

A company in Palo Alto, Calif., will measure how electromagnetic fields generated by undersea electricity transmission may affect marine species.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, will "quantify the distribution, behavioral response, and general patterns of fish movement around an operating tidal energy turbine."

And the University of Washington in Seattle will study the "behavioral responses" of killer whales, harbor porpoises, and other marine mammals to the sounds produced by tidal turbines.

A 2011 report by the Electrical Power Research Institute found that the total potential electric generation from ocean waves is approximately 1,170 terawatt-hours a year, which is almost one third of the 4,000 TWh of electricity used in the United States each year.

"Developing just a small fraction of the available wave energy resource could allow for millions of American homes to be powered with this clean, reliable form of energy," the DOE says on its website.