Ocean energy wants place in EU’s energy future

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Wave and tidal energy could provide 15% of Europe's energy needs by 2050, the industry estimates, calling for support measures to realise its potential. 

The European Ocean Energy Association (EU-OEA) last week (15 July) published a 2050 roadmap for ocean energy, highlighting the major potential of energy produced from the flow of waves and tides or the thermal and salinity gradients of oceans and seas.

The report estimated that installed ocean energy could reach 3.6 GW by 2030 and leap to nearly 188 GW by mid-century. In 2050, a world-leading ocean energy industry in Europe could prevent 136.3 million tonnes of CO2 per year from being emitted into the atmosphere and create 470,000 new green jobs, it argued.

However, ocean energy is still in its infancy and technologies to capture it are currently being demonstrated in different countries. The largest resources in the EU are wave, tidal current and tidal range, and technologies to harvest them are thus the most advanced, the EU-OEA said.

Developers can access development zones with testing facilities, grid infrastructure and licensing rounds in Ireland, Norway, Denmark, the UK, Portugal, Finland, Spain, France and Italy, it said.

Only a handful of modern commercial projects are generating ocean power today, while numerous others are in development, according to the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21). It estimated that some 6MW is operational or being tested in European waters, with the UK in the lead. The country has the world's first commercial-scale tidal turbine, which feeds electricity into the grid to satisfy the needs of around 1,000 British homes.

The industry currently faces a number of expensive challenges. It will have to demonstrate the operational capabilities of a new generation of full-scale ocean energy conversion devices and install them within the next few years while developing automated manufacturing processes, the report outlined.

It also pointed to the need for electricity network connections to enable large-scale ocean energy power to be delivered to the grid, and stressed the importance of cooperating with other industries, particularly offshore wind, oil and gas.

To speed up the development of the clean energy source, the report calls for the development of a European Industrial Initiative for ocean energy under the EU's Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan. This would help create the critical mass of public-private partnerships needed to commercialise the technologies, it argued.

"A number of large-scale utilities, energy agencies and industrial players […] have already made significant investments in the sector," said Nathalie Rousseau, executive director of EU-OEA. "The successful growth of the ocean energy industry now depends on swift and targeted policy actions and EU support to overcome a number of known technological and market challenges".

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