Catching the Right Wave: Evaluating Wave Energy Resources and Potential Compatibility with Existing Marine and Coastal Uses
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Many hope that ocean waves will be a source for clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy, yet wave energy conversion facilities may affect marine ecosystems through a variety of mechanisms, including competition with other human uses. We developed a decision-support tool to assist siting wave energy facilities, which allows the user to balance the need for profitability of the facilities with the need to minimize conflicts with other ocean uses. Our wave energy model quantifies harvestable wave energy and evaluates the net present value (NPV) of a wave energy facility based on a capital investment analysis. The model has a flexible framework and can be easily applied to wave energy projects at local, regional, and global scales. We applied the model and compatibility analysis on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada to provide information for ongoing marine spatial planning, including potential wave energy projects. In particular, we conducted a spatial overlap analysis with a variety of existing uses and ecological characteristics, and a quantitative compatibility analysis with commercial fisheries data. We found that wave power and harvestable wave energy gradually increase offshore as wave conditions intensify. However, areas with high economic potential for wave energy facilities were closer to cable landing points because of the cost of bringing energy ashore and thus in nearshore areas that support a number of different human uses. We show that the maximum combined economic benefit from wave energy and other uses is likely to be realized if wave energy facilities are sited in areas that maximize wave energy NPV and minimize conflict with existing ocean uses. Our tools will help decision-makers explore alternative locations for wave energy facilities by mapping expected wave energy NPV and helping to identify sites that provide maximal returns yet avoid spatial competition with existing ocean uses.
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