Blue Energy: What is it? – Here are some Questions and Answers

What is blue energy? 
Blue energy – or ocean energy – covers all technologies to harvest the renewable energy of our seas and oceans other than offshore wind (a Communication on offshore wind energy has already been adopted in 2008).

Ocean energy can be harvested in many forms: 

  • Wave energy depends on wave height, speed, length, and the density of the water;
  • Tidal stream energy is generated from the flow of water in narrow channels;
  • Tidal range technologies (or ‘tidal barrages’) exploit the difference in surface height in a dammed estuary or bay;
  • Ocean thermal energy conversion uses temperature differences between surface and sub-surface water to generate energy;
  • Salinity gradient power relies on the difference in salinity between salt and fresh water.

Ocean energy is currently an infant industry. Wave and tidal stream technologies are by comparison more developed than other technologies. But with technological improvements and additional public support to be given in line with our guidance for the design of renewables support schemes for early stage development, the ocean energy sector may be able to grow to a similar scale as offshore wind.

Ocean energy is now at a critical stage. Moving from prototype demonstration to commercialisation has always been difficult for emerging technologies. In the current economic climate, it is a particular challenge. Like other renewable energies, ocean energy will benefit from a clear, stable and supportive policy framework to attract investment and develop to its potential.

The ocean energy sector was highlighted in the Commission’s Blue Growth Strategy as one of five developing areas in the ‘blue economy’ that could help drive job creation in coastal areas. In 2008, the Commission already adopted a Communication on offshore wind energy . This made the development of this sector take off, from a nascent industry to an installed capacity of 6GW in 6 years’ time. Now, the Commission adds this new communication to focus specifically on the potential of the ocean energy sector to contribute to the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, as well as the EU’s long-term greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. It outlines an action plan to help unlock the sector’s potential.

The ocean energy resource available globally exceeds our present and projected future energy needs. In the EU, the highest potential for the development of ocean energy is on the Atlantic seaboard, but potential also exists in the Mediterranean and the Baltic basins and in the Outermost Regions.

Seas and oceans have the potential to become important sources of clean energy.

  • The development of marine renewable energy, including both offshore wind and ocean energy, can generate economic growth and create jobs in Europe, enhance the security of the European Union’s energy supply, and boost competitiveness through technological innovation.
  • Additional support for this emerging sector could enable the European Union to reap significant economic and environmental benefits, provide Europe with clean energy, and create jobs and growth.
  • Conservative estimates show that 40,000 jobs could be created by 2035.
  • Studies have also shown that it has the theoretical potential to fulfil 78% of the EU’s projected energy consumption by 2030.

The development of ocean energy can contribute to achieving EU2020 targets in several ways:

  • The development of the ocean energy sector can increase the EU’s generation capacity of renewable energy.
  • Ocean energy offers the promise of clean and renewable energy, thereby contributing to the EU2020 targets on climate change and energy sustainability.
  • Ocean energy has the potential to create new, high-quality jobs. Indicative job estimates from the impact assessment show that 10,500-26,500 permanent jobs and up to 14,000 temporary jobs could be created by 2035. Other estimates suggest that it could lead to the creation of up to 20,000 jobs by 2035 in UK alone and 18,000 in France by 2020. A substantial proportion of these employment opportunities will arise in the Atlantic coastal areas, some of which currently suffer from high unemployment. However, job creation will not be constrained to countries actually deploying ocean energy devices. There will be a large manufacturing capacity needed across Europe to support the ocean energy sector. It is clear that the industry can support economic growth even in countries which do not have a coast line.
  • Because of substantial public and private investment in research and development, the position of European industry in the global ocean energy market is currently strong. Most of the technology developers are based in Europe.
  • The Carbon Trust estimated that the global wave and tidal energy market could be worth up to €535 billion between 2010 and 2050. Having the right framework in place and continuing to invest in research and development is essential if the EU is to capture a sizable share of the market in the future. Innovation through research and development can allow the EU to generate export opportunities for both technology and expertise

More Information 
Ocean energy Action Plan
EU Press Release Commission sets out an action plan to support the development of blue energy

SourceEU Press 

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