This article is part of the 4sea project.
European leadership in ocean energies
European companies in the wave and tidal energy sectors count among the leaders in the market. In 2014, around 50% of global wave and tidal energy companies were from the European Union (EU) (European Commission, 2014). Such renewable energy sources are central to reduce electricity production emissions in the European Union, at a time when it is necessary to cut global emissions drastically if we want to follow a path of 2°C or less (2°C of global average temperature at the surface of the Earth, as mentioned in the COP21 Paris Agreement). As a consequence, innovation should be fostered by public and private support.
Ocean will be the next important renewable energy source for the European Union. The potential of the different ocean energy sources (wave, tidal, currents, thermal and salinity gradient) along the European coasts is promising. Indeed, ocean energy represents a potential of 100% to 400% of the global electricity demand (OES, 2017). If this potential implies that we harness all the ocean energy available on Earth – which seems ideal if not impossible – , it remains interesting to focus on this energy source as a complementary renewable energy.
By putting ocean energy at the core of its next research scheme and through regional-level support, the EU would anticipate the important thrive of these technologies and position itself as a leader in renewable energy development. It would also participate in the global momentum towards ocean as a solution, from its integration to the Paris Agreement in 2015 to the Ocean Conference of the UN in 2017.
Ocean Energy Challenges and Opportunities
The EU has the opportunity to catalyse the ocean energy innovation and support the generalization of these reliable, predictable and viable renewable energy sources. In the past decade, multiple projects have emerged but stopped halfway because of funding shortage – or have completely been abandoned. It is thus essential to try to understand some of the pitfalls in this sector and to offer a first list of possible solutions to address them.
Ocean energy is a diverse sector: if the tidal and wave energy are more advanced in Europe, the development of the thermal energy, based on the different of temperature between deep sea (cold) and the surface (hot), is important in overseas European territories. Ocean currents and salinity gradient, the last two forms of ocean energy, are the least developed of this category.
Each energy source requires different technologies, which are in majority diverging. The ocean energy sector is confronted to technological challenges (how to operate on the long term in a saline and offshore environment) which are addressed separately. One solution would be create a European cluster or knowledge-sharing community and benefit from the know-how of the offshore wind industry.
Another challenge category is linked with the discrepancy between the time horizon of the energy project development (taking years to design the harnessing device, test it, adapt it and deploy it) and the time restrictions of investors. Funding stands as one of the main difficulties of the ocean energy projects and should be addressed on the EU level, to offer this promising sector with a coherent, Europe-wide and long term funding framework. Such a long-term visibility would also encourage private investors to support an innovative but capital intensive sector (due to high capital expenditure).
Finally, the European Union could play a key role by initiating a harmonization and an alignment of policies and regulations which hinder ocean energy development. The variety of national and regional licensing and consenting processes makes it difficult for projects to scale up. Such a change is central according to ocean energy developers (Ecorys, 2017).
To know more about this topic and to have an overview of the European situation in 2018, we can refer to the report to be published by Julia Tasse “Ocean Energies and Innovation 2018: wave and tidal energies in Europe, challenges and opportunities”.
About the author: Julia Tasse is a member of Climates working on 4Sea project. She graduated with two Bachelors (Social Sciences and Biology with a focus on Genetics) and two Masters (International Relations and Environmental Sciences). After a few years working in the energy sector and for the World Ocean Council, she specialized in ocean related issues and solutions. Always yearning for new collaboration opportunities to foster sustainable innovation, she works with other international networks such as Climate-KIC and TREVE.
It’s World Ocean’s Day tomorrow and this article has been written in the context of 4sea. 4sea, a project about the importance of the world oceans, addresses the interdependence between the oceans and climate change, entraining everyone to become ocean lovers. 4sea is a joint project between the youth organisations CliMates, Youth for Ocean and Vitamin Sea. Love it? Stay tuned for more !
Ecorys for the European Commission, Directorate-General for Research & Innovation (2017), “Study on Lessons for Ocean Energy Development, Final report”
European Commission, (2014), « Réaliser le potentiel de l’énergie océanique dans les mers et les océans européens à l’horizon 2020 et au-delà » European Commission Communication ‘‘Blue Energy Action needed to deliver on the potential of ocean energy in European seas and oceans by 2020 and beyond’’
Ocean Energy Systems (OES), 2017, “Annual Report, An Overview Of Activities In 2017”, published by The Executive Committee of Ocean Energy Systems