Marine Hydrokinetic Energy Site Identification and Ranking Methodology Part I: Wave Energy

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Marine hydrokinetic energy is a promising and growing piece of the renewable energy sector that offers high predictability and additional energy sources for a diversified energy economy. This report investigates the market opportunities for wave energy along the U.S. coastlines. It is part one of a two-part investigation into the United State's two largest marine hydrokinetic resources (wave and tidal). Wave energy technology is still an emerging form of renewable energy for which large-scale, grid-connected project costs are currently poorly defined. Ideally, device designers would like to know the resource conditions at economical project sites so they can optimize device designs. On the other hand, project developers need detailed device cost data to identify sites where projects are economical. That is, device design and siting are, to some extent, a coupled problem. This work describes a methodology for identifying likely deployment locations based on a set of criteria that wave energy experts in industry, academia, and national laboratories agree are likely to be important factors for all technology types. This work groups the data for the six criteria into 'locales' that are defined as the smaller of either the local transmission grid or a state boundary. The former applies to U.S. islands (e.g., Hawaii, American Samoa) and rural villages (e.g., in Alaska); the latter applies to states in the contiguous United States. These data are then scored from 0 to 10 according to scoring functions that were developed with input from wave energy industry and academic experts. The scores are aggregated using a simple product method that includes a weighting factor for each criterion. This work presents two weighting scenarios: a long-term scenario that does not include energy price (weighted zero) and a near term scenario that includes energy price. The aggregated scores are then used to produce ranked lists of likely deployment locales. In both scenarios, Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest (northern California, Oregon, and Washington) rank at the top of the lists. Hawaii ranks highest in the near-term scenario because it has high energy costs. In the long-term scenario, Oregon ranks highest because it has a large market and an energetic resource. Several East Coast states and Puerto Rico are also identified as potential wave energy deployment sites if technological innovations make it possible to efficiently generate electricity from the modest resource there. There are also several small-market sites in Alaska and U.S. Pacific Islands that rank particularly well in the near-term analysis due to their high energy prices. These locations may represent opportunities to demonstrate economical wave energy conversion as a stepping-stone to larger markets. Several factors that will affect wave project costs and siting have not been considered here -- including permitting constraints, conflicting use, seasonal resource variability, extreme event likelihood, and distance to ports -- because consistent data are unavailable or technology-independent scoring could not be identified. As the industry continues to mature and converge around a subset of device archetypes with well-defined costs, more precise investigations of project siting that include these factors will be possible. For now, these results provide a high-level guide pointing to the regions where markets and resource will one day support commercial wave energy projects.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages38
StatePublished - 2016

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5000-66038


  • marine hydrokinetic energy
  • MHK energy
  • U.S. wave energy locations
  • U.S. wave energy sites
  • wave energy
  • wave energy locations


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