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Marine Energy is Growing Say IRENA

  • Marine energy sector is growing, says the International Renewable Energy Agency.
  • Some countries such as the Netherlands are developing policy incentives to stimulate investments into marine energy technologies such as tidal and wave power.
  • Ocean-based power sources can complement the deployment of renewable energy and support the energy transition away from fossil fuels.

The nascent marine energy sector, which has already seen investors plow about $100 million into it this year for various ocean energy projects, may develop technologies that can complement renewable sources such as solar and wind, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Adoption of solar and wind technology is also on the rise, but such energy sources can become unavailable on cloudy days when there is less sunshine or when the wind is calm. So energy architects continue to look for renewable energy sources to help usher in the transition away from fossil fuels, which have been linked to global warming.

The power locked in the world’s oceans could provide baseload energy for renewables, says IRENA and the pipeline for projects, especially in tidal and wave energy technologies, is growing. The agency, with headquarters in Abu Dhabi, is set to publish a report on the issue in July.

Currently, the world has about 13 megawatts of installed ocean energy capacity in places such as South Korea and France. Overall, the projected pipeline of wave and tidal projects currently under development could bring online almost 4000 megawatts of capacity in the coming years. That amount of energy could power about seven million U.K. households consuming about three megawatt hours per year, says Francisco Boshell, a renewable energy markets and standards analyst at IRENA.

“It’s a very big step forward,” Boshell said. “The outlook is positive for both wave and tidal. There’s increased growth in those technologies.”

Ocean energy is especially attractive for countries or island nations with long coastal areas and dense populations with a scarcity of available space to deploy land-based energy technologies. 

Many developing countries are currently importing energy sources, such as oil or diesel, to power their economies and marine energy can become an inexpensive alternative in the future, says the agency.

Ocean energy encompasses a wide range of technologies. Most commonly tidal power is achieved when water turbines are placed horizontally in water and the movement of the tide causes the turbines to move and generate electricity that can be transported onto land.

The high and low tide is dependent on the gravitational pull of the moon, which is easily calculated, making it a dependable energy source, say experts.

The power locked in the ocean could potentially meet all of the world’s present-day electricity demands and help meet the world’s sustainable development goals, said IRENA in a report submitted for the United Nations Ocean Conference this year.

However, the technology is still at an early stage and the price paid by consumers for marine-derived energy can be elevated compared with low electricity prices around the world, say analysts.

The sector also needs government support to stimulate investments into projects that some investors may view as risky. Some countries, such as Canada and China, have implemented so-called feed-in tariffs – a politically predetermined price for marine electricity that could guarantee a certain level return on investments for stakeholders.

“The perceived risk of these technologies is relatively high, which means that you need policy incentives to make investors put money there,” says Boshell.

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