Ocean Energy: From Here to 100 GW by 2050

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Written By: Emma Websdale

Last week, Ted Johnson, Senior Vice President and Head of OTEC Programs at Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation joined a panel of experts at the European Ocean Energy annual conference to discuss the measures required to achieve clean energy from our oceans at the utility scale as part of a low-carbon future.
614243550Beatrice Coda, senior policy officer at the European Commission, opened the discussion entitled, ‘From here to 100 GW by 2050′. Her passion for tackling climate change was evident in her presentation. Coda began by reminding the audience that climate change poses a threat to future economic growth -one of the drivers behind the European Commission’s climate policy framework that set three 2020 targets. Among them is Europe’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy consumption by 2020. To make the economy more energy efficient, Coda remarked, there needs to be “a massive shift of investment expenditure into low-carbon technologies” of at least 30 billion euros a year.

Rob Stevenson, vice-president of Alstom Ocean, next introduced the role of his company as “delivering ocean power safely to people and organizations”, and announced that Alstom Ocean’s first 100-megawatt (MW) turbine has been successfully installed. Stating that the EU market will dominate the ocean energy sector for the next ten years, Stevenson then urged the industry to take advantage of this opportunity to understand and learn from technological pilot phases before rushing to create commercial arrays. He cautioned that companies need to spend money “understanding their resources better” so that plants won’t be “built riddled with problems”. Unless the industry works out problems in the pilot phase, “utilities won’t take the risk to the buy the energy”, he warns.

After this cautionary message, Trevor Raggatt, head of Small-Scale and Emerging Renewables at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), again built optimism for ocean energy commercialization. Presenting an image of former president John F. Kennedy, Raggatt read Kennedy’s famous words from 1961: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”. Raggatt encouraged developers, saying that with the correct innovation and funding, challenges facing commercialization of ocean energy can be overcome. He pushed his message further, pointing out that “a number of promising devices have emerged”, including demonstration and infrastructure testing on ocean technologies alongside public sector funding.

Raggatt referenced the Technology Innovation Needs Assessment (TINA), compiled in August 2012 by the Low Carbon Innovation Co-ordination Group (LCICG) –an assessment of the key innovation needs for prioritizing public sector investment into low-carbon innovation. He reminded us of these three key findings:

1) Ocean energy could make a meaningful contribution to the UK by 2025.

2) Ocean energy could contribute £1-4 billion (US$1.6 – 6.4 billion) to UK GDP and save the UK energy system £3-8 billion (US$4.6 – 12.7 billion) by 2050.

3) The cost of marine energy will need to be reduced by 50-75% by 2025 if it is to compete with offshore wind power and other technologies.

Raggatt’s take-home message from the report’s findings is this: In order to push the ocean energy sector forward, we must increase innovation to reduce the overall costs of ocean energy and ensure that ocean energy arrays are deployed within the next five years.

Next at the podium was Ted Johnson, Senior Vice President and Head of OTEC Programs at Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation, who supported Raggatt’s call completely. “We need something in the water as soon as possible”, Johnson said. “[Many people] don’t know what ocean energy is and so you’ve got to show them that it works.”

Johnson expressed the risks associated with unpreparedness in ocean energy commercialization, including long-term damage to the industry’s reputation. He highlighted this point by noting how one major accident in the nuclear industry resulted in substantial loss of investor confidence. “Public confidence is key”, said Johnson. Referring back to Kennedy’s quotation Johnson stated that “unfortunately, investors like the easy stuff, not the hard stuff”. He added that driving finance into securing renewable energy technologies is key to gaining confidence. “The bottom line is financing. Nothing happens in the world until someone finances these things”, he said.

Emphasizing the need for clean energy Johnson said, “Someday fossil fuels are going to run out or get too expensive to use, so we need a replacement for them.” He called for a stable framework for the ocean energy sector, summarizing that the industry needs to avoid disruptive events in order to secure both public and investor confidence. “Don’t give up”, he urged delegates.

Summarizing the panel’s contributions, Beatrice Coda said, “There is a lot of enthusiasm for the sector but also a sense of urgency. The next five years are critical in getting the cost [of ocean energy] down.” She added, “For long-term success, we need to have the right conditions available now and be ready to demonstrate them now. We have no time to lose. We need stability, and we need to focus on what we are doing.”