Ocean Energy Predictions

Ocean Energy Europe (OEE) have recently released their 2030 energy vision (link). This contains within it some bold predictions about the growth in deployed capacity of wave and tidal energy devices, which we would love to see happen. However, it got us thinking that it would be interesting to look back at previous studies and see how well these predictions have panned out and try to understand the basis of what is driving these predictions.

The OEE best case numbers seem highly ambitious at first glance – 2,388MW of tidal energy installed by 2030. To put that into context that would mean installing two Orbital O2 turbines (the worlds most powerful tidal turbine) every week for the next ten years! Or three Atlantis AR1500 or Andritz Hydro Hammerfest turbines. Or if considering Nova’s smaller scale turbines, that is 46 turbines a week for the next decade! Obviously, all of these tidal turbines mentioned and more will have a part to play in deployment of this scale, but that means we are talking about the order of 5-10 devices installed every week, starting now. Add to that the fact that these prediction are more exponential than linear, it means more like 15-20 devices a week by the end of the decade.

The predictions in wave energy, at ~500MW by 2030, are similarly progressive, with very few commercial scale devices active at present. It is noted in this prediction that co-location with floating wind assets is a potential avenue for increased wave energy deployment and one that is being pursued by the likes of Bombora Wave Power and Marine Power Systems. This could be an avenue for more significant global deployment.

Ambitious predictions on this scale are nothing new – looking back to the European Ocean Energy Roadmap from 2010 the predictions were for 3.6GW of installed capacity by 2020 and of the order of 20GW by 2030. Clearly, the industry has not achieved these lofty ambitions, but the desire, appetite and predictions have always been this ambitious.

Considering that no developer is currently in the position to install this many devices next week, where have these values come from?

Tidal Turbine Marine Operations
Pelamis Wave Energy Device

Well, typically these studies are all fed into by device developers who are optimistic about the industry as a whole and their future potential sites. These short-term predictions are then often combined with the growth rates seen in onshore wind (in the 2000s) and offshore wind in the last decade. The growth in the wind industry has been unprecedented and perhaps is an unrepresentative model to affiliate the fledgling tidal and wave sectors with. It is worth considering that the wind industry as a whole started back in the 1970s and had a long period of development before seeing rapid growth. Tidal and wave development really started in anger in the mid-2000s, so nothing like the same duration to learn lessons, develop the design and reduce costs.

That being said the growth in offshore wind has shown everyone in renewables what is possible, constantly outstripping predictions in installed capacity and showing unrelenting growth. With the right support, contracting methods and investor backing, this level of growth is evidently possible and is something to aspire to. Changes to the CfD scheme in the UK may help to make more favourable conditions for wave and tidal, but more technological, commercial and operational development is required before we will see growth rates like those predicted.

We understand that these predictions are made to help encourage investment into the industry and boost growth, however sometimes ambitious targets that are consistently not attained are detrimental to the industry as a whole. Tidal and wave energy have an important role to play in the renewable energy mix, often occurring when wind and solar are not contributing and in the case of tidal being a very predictable base load. What do we think is more realistic? Well, in 2010 it was around 2-3MW installed and today it sits at ~42MW cumulative deployments (although only ~13MW remains actively in service), so 2030 in our view, is expected to be closer to 500MW (possibly as high as 600MW with the right support mechanisms) which is still a considerable target and a valuable part of the energy mix.

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