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Following the pandemic, interest and investment in tidal and wave energy projects went above and beyond pre-pandemic levels. With governments looking to diversify their renewable energy mix and transition away from fossil fuels, ocean energy projects offer a reliable alternative to traditional renewable energy developments.
According to studies by Ocean Energy Europe, 2.2 megawatts of tidal stream capacity was installed across Europe in 2021, an increase from 260 kilowatts the previous year. In addition, 681 kW of wave energy was installed, marking a threefold increase. Worldwide the figure totaled 3.12 mW of tidal stream capacity and 1.38 mW of wave energy, at an estimated cost of $76.8 million.
The European Commission has set a target for 100 mW of wave and tidal energy in the EU by 2025 and 1 gW by 2030. But this is far higher than the current capacity, meaning that countries and energy firms across Europe must act quickly to help achieve this goal.
Several companies are now beginning to invest heavily in ocean energy technologies. In 2021, Orbital Marine Power installed “the world’s most powerful” tidal turbine at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, an Archipelago north of Scotland. The 2 mW O2 turbine is connected to a subsea cable that links it with the local electricity grid. It is expected to be in operation for the next 15 years and provide power to 2,000 U.K. homes.
The U.K. also announced a $2.35 billion tidal lagoon project last year, which would use underwater turbines, floating solar power, and battery storage. The project, named Blue Eden, is set to be located on the coast in southeast Wales with funding coming from tech firm DST Innovation and other private partners. The development of the project will take place over 12 years, with the construction of a “newly designed tidal lagoon” with “underwater turbines generating 320 megawatts of renewable energy.”
For 2022 the outlook seems just as strong. This month, the U.K. announced the revitalization of a Severn estuary project as the government looks to enhance the country’s energy security through diversification. The project was previously scrapped over a decade ago in favor of nuclear energy projects. The decision came as many European powers continue to worry about the threat of energy shortages due to the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine. If sanctions are imposed on Russia, this could mean severe oil and gas shortages at the global level.
The estuary is ideal for this type of project as it has the second-largest tidal range in the world. The government has now established an independent commission on tidal energy for the Severn, which includes government and energy firm representatives as well as academics. The project is expected to cost nearly $33 billion and take around a decade to complete.
While some worry about the potential impact on the surrounding environment, Huw Thomas, the leader of Cardiff council explains “The changing landscape of the climate emergency, energy insecurity, rising costs, and rapid technological improvements indicate that many of these policy, cost and environmental barriers may no longer be as significant.”
Meanwhile in Scotland, Nova Innovation announced plans at the beginning of the year to develop a tidal energy project in Yell Sound in Shetland. The project will include the construction of several tidal turbines, both the existing 100 kW model and a new 200 kW version that gained European backing last year.
The renewable energy firm is also working on the Nova Tidal Array project in Nova Scotia, Canada. the 1.5 mW tidal energy development will consist of 15 turbines and expects to deliver power to Canadian utility, Nova Scotia Power this year. This is part of the company’s plan to support net-zero goals across multiple countries by developing new, reliable renewable energy technologies.
In New York, tidal projects have been up and running for decades Verdant power launched their Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy (RITE) Project in 2000. The company sees tidal energy as more reliable than solar or wind power as it is easier to predict the amount of power the turbine will produce over decades, without having to rely on the weather for its energy output.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) believes tidal energy could power over 20 million American homes, and wave energy could power over 200 million. However, to date, global tidal and wave power is largely untapped.
So, could tidal and wave energy offer a more reliable form of renewable energy, compared to existing solar and wind power projects, allowing countries around the world to transition more quickly away from fossil fuels? As governments back new projects and energy firms offer greater levels of investment, ocean energy is likely to become a major contributor to the global energy mix over the next decades.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com