The most neglected energy source on Earth

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About a month ago, a report by clean energy watchdog Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) confirmed that the renewable energy sector has remained the most resilient to the ravages of Covid-19, with global investments in energy transition in 2020 reaching a record $ 501.3 billion, good for 9% Y / Y growth. As expected, solar, wind and electric vehicles dominated the lion’s share of investments in clean energy, while investments in hydrogen technology and carbon capture and storage (CCS) succeeded in reach $ 4.5 billion combined.

Unfortunately, a renewable energy source continued to shine by its absence: tidal and wave energy.

But make no mistake: BNEF has warned that the world may not be able to meet its climate targets on time to avoid catastrophic climate change if it continues to ignore fringe technologies such as CCS. and hydrogen. You can add ocean energy to this list.

IRENA has estimated the energy potential of waves to be around 29,500 TWh per year, which means that ocean energy alone could theoretically meet the energy needs of the entire world.

However, tidal and wave energy has remained woefully under-represented in our energy mix. For example, Europe has some of the most developed marine energy facilities for power generation. Yet ocean energy only accounted for 0.06% of all electricity produced by the former 28-member block from renewable sources in 2019.

However, this could be the tipping point when tidal and wave energy finally becomes mainstream and even begins to compete with conventional renewables such as solar and wind power.

Blue energy explosion

The EU has recognized that blue energy is destined to play a much bigger role in our energy mix as the world shifts to clean energy.

While still focusing primarily on wind power, the commission’s forthcoming offshore energy strategy will seek to boost other sources of ocean energy, including waves and tides, according to a draft policy document. The goal is for offshore wind to reach installed capacities of 60 gigawatts (GW) by 2030 and 1 to 3 GW for ocean power by a similar date. This will pave the way for much larger construction of 300 and 60 GW, respectively for offshore and ocean wind power, by 2050.

How ambitious is this goal?

Well, the commission points out that aiming for 60 GW of ocean energy by 2050 will mean a massive surge in technology at a rate that was unparalleled in any other energy technology in the past.

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Currently, 13 MW of marine energy installations are being tested in EU waters, with the tide considered closest to commercialization, while wave energy technologies are mostly still at the stage of development. R&D.

And a lot more money will have to flow into the industry for this ambitious goal to be achieved. Wave and tidal technologies in Europe only managed to attract a total of 3.84 billion euros in research funds between 2007 and 2019, the majority (2.74 billion euros) coming from private sources.

Surf the tidal wave

The EU is in good company.

Ocean Energy Systems (OES), an offshoot of the International Energy Agency, has worked tirelessly to pool all possible research with the aim of achieving a large-scale deployment of ocean energy in a near future.

The 24 OES members, including the US, China, most EU countries and India, believe ocean energy has the potential to become the holy grail of renewables due to its potential.

The OES has identified several challenges focused on affordability, reliability, operability, installability, standardization, availability of funding and capacity building that will need to be addressed before ocean energy can become a source. main renewable energy.

The organization, in particular, emphasizes the need to dramatically reduce costs for ocean energy technologies to successfully compete with other low-carbon technologies. The European objective is to reduce tidal energy to € 0.10 per kilowatt hour and wave power to € 0.15 by 2030, which would also make them competitive with fossil fuels if these traditional sources were forced to pay for the capture and storage of the carbon dioxide they generate

Benefits of ocean energy

Ocean energy has distinct advantages.

First of all, it is clean and compact, with a higher energy density than solar and wind projects. For example, the Sihwa Lake tidal power station in South Korea, the world’s largest tidal project with an installed capacity of 254 MW, was easily added to a 12.5 km long sea wall that was built in 1994 for protect the coast from flooding. Compare that to the 781.5 MW Roscoe Wind Farm in Texas, which occupies 400 km2 of farmland, or the 150 MW-Fowler Ridge Wind Project in Indiana which sits on a 202.3 km2 plot of land. .

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Even solar farms are usually larger, like the Bhadla Industrial Solar Park in Rajasthan, India, which spans 45 km2 of land, or the Tengger Desert Solar Park in China which covers 43 km2. This means that even the smallest countries with sufficiently long coastlines can use tidal power to compete with larger, land-rich countries such as the United States, China, and India which can afford to spend. large tracts of land for solar and wind projects.

Unfortunately, only Scotland currently generates significant amounts of ocean energy.

Scotland has enormous natural potential thanks to its impressive archipelago of islands with strong tidal currents that can be easily harnessed. Located in the territory of the north of the United Kingdom, the country now has the largest network of underwater tidal turbines in the world. Scottish tidal turbines have even exceeded expectations, with MeyGen now planning to significantly increase the number of installations.

Canada and the UK, both of which have some of the highest tides in the world, are other major countries developing ocean energy technologies. Canada has a number of tidal power projects along its Atlantic coast, primarily in Nova Scotia, where dozens of competing companies are testing various prototypes. The UK has more than 20 of these projects in the works, some still in the research and development stage, but many are in the process of being scaled up for deployment.

Meanwhile, China is encouraging tidal power by offering a generous feed-in tariff 3 times the price of fossil fuels. This is similar to the rate deployed by countries trying to launch solar and wind power. The incentive is high enough that a Chinese company is already injecting marine power into the main grid profitably.

As for the United States, the EIA says the country lacks an abundance of suitable sites to harness ocean energy and will have to make do with other low-carbon technologies such as solar, wind and solar power. biofuels, where it has a better competitive advantage.

By Alex Kimani for Oil Octobers

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