The oceans are a massive source of untapped energy potential – just 0.1% of the energy in ocean waves could be capable of supplying the entire world's energy requirements five times over. As part of the European Commission’s objective to reduce carbon energy consumption it has launched a new study into the energy potential of the oceans. Consulting firm Ecorys has been engaged to research the maturity and potential of tidal and wave energy generation.
As the use of carbon becomes unsustainable, human civilisation is exploring different – and more sustainable – sources of energy supply. One of these sources is the ocean, which covers almost 71% of the world’s surface. According to preliminary research the potential of the ocean as a source of energy is huge, with an estimate that harnessing 0.1% of the energy in ocean waves could be capable of supplying the entire world's energy requirements five times over.
To explore the possibility of harnessing the world’s oceans for energy, a number of technologies have in recent years been further developed. These include tidal and marine energy, wave energy, difference of temperature and salinity energy. These different technologies however find themselves at different stages of maturity. Tidal energy generation is much like hydroelectric generation and has reached some maturity, while techniques that exploit waves are in the process of small and larger scale testing. Early stage development technologies include those that leverage the difference of temperature, between deep and shallow water, and of the difference in salinity, between salt and fresh water.
As part of its bid to reduce its dependence on carbon based fuels, and given the massive potential for clean energy contained in the vast oceans, the European Commission, as part of its DG Research and Innovation imitative, has started supporting a number of research and development programmes looking into the potential of the oceans’ different energy production forms, as well as promoting cooperation between stakeholders in the ecosystem.
One of the projects launched is a detailed assessment into the potential of tidal and wave as a future source of renewable energy. To conduct the study, the EC has hired Ecorys, a pan-European research and consulting firm, and Fraunhofer IWES, an institute with more500 employees working in the field of energy system technology. The project will see the researchers perform field work in countries currently developing the technologies, including UK, France, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland. The field work explores three themes related to the development of the technology types and specific pathways: lessons from ocean energy development; barriers for sharing knowledge and sectorial cooperation; and good practices in both ocean energy development and other relevant sectors.
Through the investigation Ecorys and Fraunhofer IWES will deliver an objective evidence-based foundation for the EC’s future exploitation of the ocean waves, forming an input component to steering research and innovation investments in the Ocean Energy sector.
The value of the ocean
A previous study from the World Wildlife Fund and the Boston Consulting Group found that the ocean not only is home to a massive energy source, but also represents a major economic force. According to the researchers the bounty of the ocean produces $2.5 trillion in gross marine product per year, while its asset base is quantified to be worth $24 trillion. The ocean at the same time faces a number of large risks stemming from humanity and global warming, including the risk of excessive plastic waste. In another study, by the Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey, the authors warn that if plastic removal policy is not improved, the amount of plastic in seas could rise from 150 million metric tons today to 250 million tons by 2025.