As Covid-19 restrictions begin to ease in many countries, Europe is actively working on its recovery script, with renewables cast in the starring role. The recently announced European recovery fund is expected to invest massively in the green transition: this could include loans for commercial investments, as well as potential grants for new renewable technologies.
This emphasis on renewables sends two clear messages: one, in 2020, ‘green’ means economic development; and, two, we need new, flexible renewables technologies – including those classed as ‘ocean energy’ – alongside large volumes of wind and PV, to help match electricity supply with demand.
Many voices have joined the call for a climate-centred approach to economic recovery packages. Analysis from the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford published last week showed conclusively that clean-energy investments deliver higher returns, in both the short and long term, than conventional fiscal stimulus.
Today, there are more European jobs in electricity production from wind energy than from gas. This is partly because building devices such as turbines is more labour intensive than simply burning large quantities of fuel. It is also because the renewable industry is investing at home, rather than lining the pockets of Russian oligarchs.
As for newer renewable energy technologies, ocean energy can provide another 400,000 jobs across Europe by 2050 – not only for skilled maritime workers, but for companies throughout the supply chain.
So, the question that a few are asking – do we have enough money to invest in climate action in times of economic crisis? – is simply passé. Climate action equals economic recovery.
All recent major models of the future energy system, from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) to analysts BNEF, show Europe running on between 80-100% renewable energy in 2050. Even the International Energy Agency, which has long used modelling that underestimated renewable markets, has come around – albeit still with conservative estimates. In other parts of the world, the future share of renewables is still anticipated to be well above 50-60%, as deployments are set to dramatically increase.
A two-track approach is needed to realise these scenarios, as proposed by the European Commission. Mature renewables like wind power and PV will generate the bulk of low-cost, emissions-free energy for consumers. And alongside those, now is the moment to widely deploy a second-generation of renewables, such as wave, tidal and OTEC (ocean thermal energy conversion) or SWAC (sea water air conditioning).
Ocean energy technologies embody the dual goals of a ‘green recovery’: their climate credentials are clear, with the added value of producing at different times from wind and solar, thereby smoothing out production patterns.
By 2050, ocean energy can provide 100GW of Europe’s power, equal to 10% of the current electricity demand.
Ocean energy is already building that future. Tidal energy developers are ramping up power output and scaling up pilot farms, with the flagship MeyGen project recently reaching 28 GWh of production – and spurring expansion of a 80MW array that would supply power to a commercial-scale data centre.
A new generation of full-scale wave devices is proving its worth, surviving stormy seas whilst generating power. Engie’s SWAC project, Thassalia, heats and cools an entire district in the city of Marseille, France.
Among the many projects being developed in Europe, the international Tiger project is set to deliver 8MW of tidal stream energy in the English Channel. Further afield, European export projects are planned in Japan and China, and 20MW of tidal farms using European technology are being developed in Canada.
Ocean energy is taking off. Recovery packages around the world must make renewables, including ocean energy, a cornerstone of the new economy. By supporting modest amounts of ocean energy right now, national governments can pave the way for industrialisation.
In Europe, providing the stimulus for 100MW of ocean energy by 2025 and 3-5GW by 2030 will give a clear signal to both the sector and investors, leveraging more private investment and enabling projects to hit the water. This will propel this new industry into the mainstream, where it can replicate the successes of its offshore wind predecessors.
· Rémi Gruet is CEO of renewables advocacy body Ocean Energy Europe, which is holding a webinar with Irena, Oceans powering the energy transition, on Tuesday 12 May at 1000CET