Ocean power predicted to increase hundredfold in six years

$4 billion investment required

Ocean power is still a minor in the renewable energy sector. It consists mainly of wave power and tidal stream power, and both technologies have only just embarked on their first commercial projects. Today, less than 10 MW of ocean power capacity has been installed. However, according to a report by Greentech Media and the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development, this technology could reach 1 GW of installed capacity and grid parity within six years from now.

Such progression would require $2 billion of investment in research, design and development and another $2 billion in commercial production and installation. Compare those figures with the $500 million investment made between 2001 and 2007.

How this technology will develop in the next few years depends greatly on the investment climate and the willingness of the power sector to buy in to these type of projects. These, in turn, depend on the readiness of governments to create dedicated policies and incentives for this sector.

No technological breakthrough required

One of the main reasons for the fast-growing potential of ocean power is the well-understood principles of mechanical and electrical engineering its technology is based on. So, unlike some other types of renewable energy, we are not waiting for a technological breakthrough. In addition, there is an abundance of ocean energy available and it’s denser than, for instance, wind energy. Another significant advantage is its predictability, making it much easier to dispatch. Wave power can be predicted fairly precisely three to five days in advance, and tidal power can be perfectly predicted an impressive 100 years in advance.

Of course, the disadvantage of ocean power is its geographical limits; the technology is limited to coastal areas. This is, however, only a minor disadvantage, since nearly 50 per cent of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometres of the coast. Wave power is readily available along most coasts, although tidal energy has the additional disadvantage that the number of coastal sites that are suited to it is restricted.

It is not surprising that the ocean power industry has been developing mainly in locations with the greatest market potential, namely the UK and Canada. The UK could generate close to 20 per cent of its electricity from ocean power resources, Canada more than 25 per cent. In the USA, the ocean electricity potential is a little under 9 per cent.

Grid parity in remote island communities

As with most renewable energy technologies, the biggest cost of ocean power is the system’s infrastructure. A large part of this cost would go on the connection to the grid. Its remote location in the ocean also has a significant bearing on cost; the systems must be robust enough to avoid high maintenance expenditure.

Consequently, to obtain grid parity, the infrastructure’s costs have to be reduced. Having said that, grid parity also depends on the cost of grid electricity. For this reason, grid parity for wave power could come soon in remote island communities where the cost of electricity is very high.

Log in to post comments

Follow us