Into the blue: How ocean energy can work for Europe

By Rémi Gruet, CEO, Ocean Energy Europe
Spring 2020

Ocean Energy EuropeOn a grey September morning, two Nova Scotian fishing boats tow an unusual cargo out to sea, flanked by a bright red barge. In their wake is the PLAT-I tidal energy system, an innovative floating platform carrying four tidal stream turbines under the water's surface.

The platform was constructed by Edinburgh-based Sustainable Marine Energy in a small Scottish fishing port overlooking the North Sea, while the four turbines were made over a thousand kilometres away in Germany. The project is now ready for the next stage: becoming part of a multi-device farm in the Bay of Fundy, home to the world's largest tides.

An international endeavour, led by European technology developers. This is just one of many examples of how ocean energy is transforming Europe's blue economy and the global energy sector.

PLAT-I deployment. Photo: ©Sustainable Marine Energy

A blue driver for the European Green Deal
Ocean energy embodies what the new European Green Deal sets out to achieve. These innovative technologies are both drivers of sustainable economic growth and an essential part of meeting Europe's climate objectives.

Harnessing Europe’s ocean potential
It doesn’t take much imagination to understand the power of the sea. Looking out over the Atlantic, even on a calm day, you can see the strength of the swells and the force of the breakers crashing to shore. Europe's seas and oceans are a natural resource that is free, infinite and all around us.

It is estimated that 100GW1 of wave and tidal energy capacity can be deployed in Europe by 2050, which would meet around 10% of Europe's current electricity consumption.

Ocean energy: making a decarbonised energy system a reality
Europe must add new sources of clean energy to keep up with increasing electricity demand in the coming decades. Wind and solar power are here to stay as part of the mainstream energy mix, but they cannot go it alone. A decarbonised power system needs diversity to succeed.

The added value of ocean energy is to ensure that power supply and demand can be balanced on the grid. Ocean energy produces power at different times to other renewable sources and is highly predictable and reliable.

Ocean energy for a Just Transition
Ensuring a just and inclusive transition towards low-carbon and climate-resilient activities is a cornerstone of the European Green Deal. Developing ocean energy will directly benefit the people and places at the centre of Europe's energy transition.

Quality jobs for people from all corners of Europe
The economic footprint of ocean energy is potentially massive. Installing 100GW of ocean energy by 2050 will create an industry with 400,000 high-quality European jobs.

The skills needed to build, install and maintain ocean energy devices are also found in shipbuilding, fishing and ports. For many workers, a new ocean energy industry represents an opportunity to directly transfer their skills from traditional maritime occupations, whilst gaining new knowledge of innovative technologies.

It isn't only those living on the coast who will benefit, as the extensive supply chain stretches across Europe and beyond. To give one example among many: Finnish wave energy developer's WaveRoller is made up of components made by workers in Finland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the UK and Canada.

Revitalising Europe’s coastal regions with ocean energy
As well as skilled workers, most of Europe's coastal regions are already home to port facilities and maritime equipment. Repurposing this infrastructure for the assembly and deployment of tidal turbines and wave energy converters will breathe new life into the local area.

Alongside the newer ocean energy developers, traditional maritime companies are already diversifying into offshore renewable energy. Schottel Hydro, the turbine supplier for the PLAT-I project, is a prime example: its parent company has a long tradition of building ship propellers.

Keeping Europe's lead in ocean energy technology
The European Green Deal is aiming to significantly increase the large-scale deployment and demonstration of new technologies. Europe is currently leading the global pack in ocean energy, with more than half of wave and tidal patents worldwide held by European companies.

WaveRoller construction. Photo: ©AW Energy

European ocean energy players on an upward curve
In recent years, the European tidal energy sector has been adding steadily to its roll call of projects, with new machines hitting the water every year. At the start of 2020, the total amount of power generated by tidal energy in Europe hit a record 50 GWh - enough to power 4,000 homes for a year. In wave power technology, engineering advances mean that new devices are not only producing power, but also becoming more resilient against the ravages of the sea.

Financing innovation and innovative financing
Since 2014, the EU has invested €250m in ocean energy projects through Horizon 2020, INTERREG and LIFE programmes. This support keeps Europe at the cutting edge of technology development, acts as important leverage for the sector to secure private fi nancing, and gets pilot farms in the water.

As the sector has developed, so too have the financing tools on offer at EU level. The European Innovation Council's Accelerator, and the new Blue Invest Platform, both offer an unusual blend of grants and equity.

The forthcoming Innovation Fund is also taking a novel approach, by offering grants that can be used as revenue support to get demonstration projects up and running.

Rest of the world is hot on our heels
Beyond Europe, other countries are catching up. China, Canada and the US have recently made great strides in developing ocean energy, driven by public sector investment. PLAT-I is not the only European technology to find a home in Canada; other tidal energy schemes are also underway in Nova Scotia.

Like Europe, Canada boasts some of the strongest tidal currents in the world, but it also has something Europe does not: targeted feed-in tariffs for tidal energy.

Clear seas ahead?
What the ocean energy sector needs now is market visibility. The EU's strong commitment to developing ocean energy must not waver; national governments must also provide a level playing field through targeted revenue support schemes.

It is no coincidence that project deployments are shifting towards those countries whose support schemes guarantee electricity prices and mitigate risk. It's now up to Europe to make sure it doesn't lose the head start that it has worked so hard to secure.

Contact information:
Ocean Energy Europe
Renewable Energy House
Rue d'Arlon 63-67 B-1040, Brussels

Tel: +32 (0) 24001043

1. 'Ocean Energy Roadmap' Ocean Energy Forum, November 2016;