For all of their hype as the biggest and final frontier in clean power generation, tidal and wave power has never quite reached its potential. The IEA estimates that we only harnessed 1.2 TWh of energy from the world’s vast oceans in 2018, a tiny fraction of the ~ 170,000 TWh of global primary energy consumption. This sad situation is not, however, for lack of trying.
More than 70 companies have developed various technologies to generate electricity from ocean tides or the kinetic power of waves, which has increased the world’s production of ocean energy tenfold over the past decade. Yet most never advance beyond the pilot stages towards full commercialization.
The sad story of the leader in space, Ocean Power Technologies Inc (OPTT), serves as a sobering reality of the enormous challenge of turning an interesting science project into a profitable commercial venture. Ocean Power – a company mostly kept alive by government largesse – has crashed 99% in the past three years as it threatens to join the trash heap of tech companies that have seen more fakes. dawns that groundhog day.
But some experts now believe that the time for a blue energy revolution has come and that new developments in space could turn the tide.
Ocean Energy Systems (OES), an offshoot of the International Energy Agency, has worked tirelessly to pool all possible research with the goal of achieving a large-scale deployment of ocean energy in a near future.
Surf the tidal wave
The 24 OES members, including the US, China, most EU countries and India, believe that ocean energy has the potential to become the holy grail of renewables due to its potential.
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), an organization that promotes the widespread adoption and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy, believes that ocean energy has the potential to generate more electricity than l solar or wind power.
According to IRENA, 2% of the 800,000 kilometers of coastline in the world exceed a wave power density of 30 kilowatts per meter (kW / m), with a global technical potential estimated at around 500 gigawatts of electric power (GWe ) based on a conversion efficiency of 40%. In other words, by using just 2% of our coastline, we can generate 4,383 TWh of marine energy per year, enough to meet 16.4% of the world’s electricity needs. The UK and US said ocean energy could provide 20% and 15% of their electricity use, respectively.
In comparison, all renewables combined accounted for about 11% of U.S. energy use in 2018.
Despite the vast potential, only Scotland currently generates significant amounts of ocean energy.
Scotland has enormous potential thanks to its impressive archipelago of islands with strong tidal currents that can be easily harnessed. Located in the northern territory of the United Kingdom, the country now has the largest network of underwater wind turbine tides 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 with 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 now being extended 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.
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.
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. use tidal power to compete with larger, land-rich countries such as the United States, China and India, which can afford to devote large tracts of land to solar and wind projects.
Second, tidal power is much more predictable than solar or wind power, which can be extremely intermittent.
Finally, equipment used in ocean energy deployments such as tidal dams are long-lived concrete structures that can last up to 4 times longer than typical solar or wind farms. La Rance in France, for example, has been operational since 1966 and remains in good working order with a production capacity of 240 MW.
So what’s stopping the rest of the world from jumping on the Blue Energy train?
The cost barrier
Money is always an obstacle.
However, the challenges of harnessing tidal and wave energy can be daunting.
Tidal power projects hold some of the highest up-front prices in the renewable energy industry. The aforementioned Rance cost 620 million francs in 1966, or more than $ 1 billion today after adjusting for inflation, while the Sihwa Lake tidal power station cost $ 560 million. The UK’s Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project has been valued at Â£ 1.3bn ($ 1.67bn).
In comparison, the Tengger Desert Solar Park costs around $ 530 million, roughly the same cost as Sihwa for 3.3 times the power. Likewise, the Roscoe wind farm cost about $ 1 billion to produce 781 MW, or about 1.7 times the profitability of Sihwa Lake. Although the long-term production costs of ocean energy projects are relatively good compared to other renewable energy systems, the initial construction costs can make them unfeasible for poorer countries.
The second big challenge is the lack of sufficient research. One of the reasons Ocean Power Technologies hasn’t gone anywhere is mainly because it spends so little money on R&D. The $ 3.3 million (market capitalization) company has accumulated over $ 200 million in debt since its inception in 1984 and spends approximately $ 1.3 million per quarter on R&D. Many tidal technologies are simply not deployable on an industrial scale, thus limiting the expansion of the energy system.
Of course, that’s exactly what OES is trying to change through concerted R&D efforts among nations.
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, stresses the need for the significant cost reductions necessary for ocean energy technologies to successfully compete with other low-carbon technologies. The European objective is to reduce tidal energy to â¬ 0.10 per kilowatt hour and wave power to â¬ 0.15 by 2030, which would also make them competitive with fossil fuels if these traditional sources were obliged to pay for the capture and storage of the carbon dioxide they generate.
Unfortunately, the United States does not have tidal power plants, mainly because it lacks an abundance of sites where the technology can be exploited economically. The country will have to be content with other low carbon technologies such as solar, wind and biofuels where it has a better competitive advantage.
By Alex Kimani for Oil Octobers.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.