Resource Characterization

NREL collaborates with industry and other national labs to deliver data on marine energy resources to help developers design the next generation of marine energy technologies.

Four people in hard hats on a dock adjust a buoy bearing the NREL logo
Photo from Christopher Pike

Marine energy and hydropower technologies will play a robust role in our nation's evolving power system. But first, marine energy developers need access to high-quality data on the benefits and challenges of water resources available in U.S. oceans, inlets, and rivers.


NREL's marine energy resource characteristic capabilities include:

  • Wave energy resource measurement
  • Tidal energy resource and turbulence measurement
  • Marine energy resource assessment standards development
  • Marine energy project feasibility assessment.


Motivated by the laboratory's pioneering work evaluating how turbulence affects wind turbine design, NREL's resource characterization team of oceanographers, engineers, and data scientists works to measure the resource details necessary to design the next generation of marine energy devices. We develop new measurement systems to collect statistics on the marine resources that are critical for renewable energy device design.

In tidal and current energy, this includes advanced turbulence measurement platforms and data-processing techniques. In wave energy, we deploy high-fidelity wave measurement buoys. These systems are deployed at locations where early-market projects will be deployed and where model validation data are sparse.

The data are made publicly available via NREL's Marine Energy Atlas, the U.S. Department of Energy's Marine and Hydrokinetic Data Repository, and project partners, such as the Coastal Data Information Program. Technology developers can use these data to design the next generation of robust and efficient marine energy devices, project developers can identify optimal project sites, and the public can understand how much marine energy might be available locally or at a national level.


To help marine energy developers determine where the best energy resources flow and how to design machines to harness them, NREL researchers—along with a larger, multi-institution team—are mapping out U.S. tidal, current, and wave energy resources.

In February 2021, the labs released Marine Energy in the United States: An Overview of Opportunities, a technical report that summarizes the location and quantity of utility-scale wave, tidal and ocean current, ocean thermal, and river hydrokinetic resources in the United States. The report will improve understanding of the locations and characteristics of marine energy resources and how they might contribute to the future U.S. energy portfolio. Corresponding data can be found in the Marine Energy Atlas, an interactive mapping tool that explores the potential for marine energy resources in the United States.

Project Example: Cook Inlet Resource Characterization

In 2021, NREL researchers launched an effort to characterize the resources available in Alaska's Cook Inlet, which holds one of the greatest tidal resources on Earth. To understand how much energy flows through this waterway as well as what challenges—such as silt, sea ice, and turbulence—could impact a tidal energy device's performance, the NREL team submerged three data-gathering moorings in the inlet for 2 months. The data will help validate and refine tidal energy models, indicate how much energy could be generated in the inlet, and help developers build tidal turbines that perform reliably for decades in the harsh Cook Inlet environment. Ultimately, this work could enable developers to design turbine arrays that maximize power production while minimizing impacts to marine life and ecosystems.

Standards Development

NREL also contributes to the development of International Electrotechnical Commission standards on marine energy (Technical Committee 114). The lab's researchers actively contribute to resource assessment and power performance standards as well as design and terminology standards. NREL plays a key role in ensuring that these standards meet the needs of the U.S. marine industry and adhere to the highest levels of scientific and engineering best practices.


Cook Inlet Tidal Energy Resource Characterization Effort, NREL Fact Sheet (2021)

Marine Energy in the United States: An Overview of Opportunities, NREL Technical Report (2021)

Turbulence Measurements from Compliant Moorings. Part II: Motion Correction, Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology (2017)

Marine Hydrokinetic Energy Site Identification and Ranking Methodology Part I: Wave Energy, NREL Technical Report (2017)

Marine Hydrokinetic Energy Site Identification and Ranking Methodology Part II: Tidal Energy, NREL Technical Report (2016)


Levi Kilcher

Senior Scientist