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'The ocean makes perfect sense as the world's largest battery'

OPINION | Wind and solar have made huge progress, but only tapping the resources of the ocean will give the world the renewable energy it needs, writes John Liljelund

It has required hard work and enormous investment to get the penetration of renewables to the current level, but it is nothing compared to what is required to get a system in place where renewables supply 80% or more.

The big picture is that by 2030 electricity demand is expected to increase more than 40%, according to the International Energy Agency, and in addition 40% of the current fleet is planned to retire by 2040, together driving a need for up to 15,000GW of new capacity installations.

The International Renewable Energy Agency predicts that seven out of ten new energy units are projected to be low-carbon, increasing the total share of low-carbon electricity from around 30% to 45%. Concurrently the need for flexibility and predictability in the system is not only preferred, but essential.

We are all thrilled about how solar and wind are booming at the moment, but taking into account the demand side of the equation, it's obvious that we need other sources of renewables into the mix as well. The world’s need for renewable energy cannot be met without harnessing the ocean, the biggest solar battery we have.

When you think about it, the ocean makes perfect sense. The sun creates the winds and the winds create the waves, complemented with the tides powered by the moon. When the sun is blocked by clouds and the winds have died down, all that energy is stored in the ever-moving ocean, offering its vast power potential of hundreds of gigawatts of generation capacity for the taking, with a predictability of days in advance – and years ahead in the case of tidal.

"When the sun is blocked by clouds and the winds have died down, all that energy is stored in the ever-moving ocean"

Wind and solar are already the most cost competitive energy sources in certain markets, and we have all seen projections of where it is going. At the same time, we have non-rational decisions, eg, the UK’s Contracts for Difference scheme, where ocean energy was put in the same basket with established technologies such as offshore wind.

All we need to exploit the ocean and its endless source of energy is meticulous, persistent work by the sector, backed by political commitment that enables the marine energy sector to have the same prerequisites as the solar and wind industries. Do this, and ocean power is sure to carry equal weight in securing the world with clean energy.

When several prominent players in the ocean energy sector, such as Pelamis and Aquamarine, went bust in 2014, the entire industry suffered damage to its credibility. It was perceived that ocean energy made no sense as it was much less advanced and more expensive than the more mature wind and solar, which themselves required a lot of subsidies at the time.

It seemed all the attention was drawn to unfortunate failures instead of the remaining hope, such as AW Energy’s WaveRoller wave energy converter, which is becoming a bankable technology ready for commercial deployment after a decade of persistent and consistent risk-based work and assessment.

I’m encouraged to see that the recent significant milestones achieved and activities ongoing in relation to commercial pilot projects aren’t being overlooked by policymakers. Incorporating the system-level approach provides a strong rationale for incentives that drive inclusion and serious allocation of funding towards developing renewables technologies, which will provide the required predictability and flexibility that enables the high penetration of green energy to the system.

There are no shortcuts to success. This is a lesson that the renewables industry has learned as we see other great marine-energy companies following our systematic approach.

It is time to unlock the largest untapped resource within renewables – the ocean.

John Liljelund is chief executive of Finnish wave-energy technology company AW Energy

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