EU regions’ leadership in Ocean Energy under threat

A turbine is lowered into the water. [Alstom Ocean Energy]

European regions in the United Kingdom, France, and Ireland are world leaders in pioneering ocean energy, but risk losing that status to international competitors, unless public support for the technology is stepped up.

Local authorities in Scotland, Wales, and Brittany, have secured national and EU funding to run expensive test projects. Ocean energy is an umbrella term covering a number of different technologies (see background).

Demonstrating that the renewable system works is vital to entice private investors, put off by high testing costs, to back the technology. Without publicly supported capital intensive demonstrations, private investors won’t back ocean energy, warned Rhodri Glyn Thomas, who represents the Welsh region of Carmarthen East and Dinefwr at the Committee of the Regions (COR).

And it is private sector that can ultimately deliver the innovative technology at scale, and ultimately making it cheaper and more common.

“To bridge the gap towards commercialisation, greater cooperation between the public and private sector and research centres is of paramount importance,” said Thomas.

According to his recent opinion on developing ocean energy, backed by the COR earlier this month, the reward of using taxpayers’ cash to drive innovation in the sector could be great.

According to the European Ocean Energy Roadmap, they include;

  • Creating up to half a million jobs being created by 2050;
  • Satisfying 10% to 15% of EU power demand (110 GW2), powering 115 million homes;
  • Reducing CO2 emissions of 2.61 million tonnes by 2020 and 136.3 million tonnes by 2050.

World leaders will meet in Paris next month for the UN Climate Change Conference. It aims to limit global warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels. Co2 contributes to global warming.

Despite these advantages, investment has fallen short of other renewable energy sources, and 2020 deployment targets have not been meet.

“Without sufficient action, the EU risks losing its global leadership,” the opinion said.

It added that the bloc’s many coastal regions meant it could become a successful world player in the sector, which would bring economic and employment benefits, as well as helping the EU meet its renewable and climate goals.

If, as the opinion claimed, the sector can be developed to enhance the environment, it would bring additional benefits, including better coastal flood defences.  Coastal floods can be made worse by climate change. Scotland is at the forefront of this environmental research.

Thomas’ report called for the Juncker Investment Plan, new European Investment Bank financing instruments, and a higher CO2 emissions price in the EU’s Emissions Trading System, to support ocean energy.

Regions at the forefront

There are a number of projects in EU regions, which have deployed single devices in the sea. The next step is to run multiple devices, which is expected to happen in the next 1-3 years.

Once the multiple devices have generated enough data, developers will take it to investors and try and get finance for scaled up projects.

Some of the leading tidal stream projects are;

  • The Meygen Project in the Pentland Firth (UK) will deploy four 1.5MW turbines in the ocean in the coming months;
  • EDF will deploy two 2MW turbines in Brittany, France, which will inform a large project in Normandy’s Raz Blanchard in 2017.
  • Another four turbines of 1.4MW will hit the sea in 2017 in the Raz Blanchard;
  • 1.5 MW capcity will be deployed in Anglesey in Wales next year.
  • 6MW of a planned 90MW will be put in the water in Northern Ireland’s Fair Head Tidal project.

The Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon is 320MW a first of a kind tidal project. Another five tidal lagoons are planned in the UK, four of them in Wales. If the technology is proved viable and rolled out, experts believe it could make a significant contribution to the UK’s energy mix. 

The main ocean energy technologies are;

  • Tidal range: energy created by the difference in sea level between high and low tides, using the same principles and similar technolohy to conventional hydropower;
  • Tidal stream: generated by movements of oceans and sea caused by gravitional forces of sun and moon;
  • Wave energy: generates energy from energy flux between the wind and ocean surface;
  • Salinity gradient energy: energy avaliable from difference in salt concentration between freshwater and seawater;
  • Ocean thermal energy conversion: exploits the temperature difference between deep cold ocean energy and warm tropical surface waters to generate energy.
  • 30 November: UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. 

European Commission

Committee of the Regions

European Ocean Energy Association


Life Terra

Funded by the LIFE Programme of the EU

The content of this publication represents the views of the author only and is his/her sole responsibility. The Agency does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.

Subscribe to our newsletters