Photo: © Arild Lilleboe /

Unlocking the potential of ocean energy

To ensure affordable energy and limit global temperature rise to below 1.5 °C there is an urgent need to transition rapidly from a centralised energy system that heavily relies on fossil fuels. Ocean energy is one of the technologies that should be scaled up to support the transition of the energy system to reach full decarbonisation.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has released a report titled “Scaling up Investments in Ocean Energy Technologies” that highlights the potential of this emerging sector. The sector currently includes wave, tidal and ocean thermal energy conversion technologies, as well as extracting energy from differences in salinity concentrations and ocean currents. Tidal stream and wave energy converters are the most mature solutions applicable across different geographies.

Wave energy is now at prototype stage, with several small-scale and full-scale devices being tested in real sea conditions. After the successful completion of these projects, the next step will be the deployment of the first wave energy pilot farms. Co-location with other renewable energy sources, such as offshore wind or floating photovoltaic systems, can also be applied to optimise the power production profile and the use of marine space.

Tidal stream energy is already at the pilot farm stage, and the first multi-device arrays have been producing power for the past six years. Further full-scale devices have been demonstrated in real sea conditions and are ready to be deployed in the next wave of pilot farms.

There are several examples of successful ocean energy projects from around the world. The MeyGen project in Scotland, is the world’s biggest tidal energy farm, MeyGen, which comprises four bottom-fixed turbines. It was deployed in 2016 and has generated over 50 GWh. Minesto has deployed two tidal “kites” (turbines) harnessing low-flow tides on the Faroe Islands. The company has an agreement with the Faroese electric utility company SEV with the objective of deploying an additional 4 MW in the Vestmannasund strait. Sustainable Marine deployed their floating tidal platform, previously tested in Scotland and in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 2022. Located within some of the most powerful tides in the world, the project will be expanded to 9 MW in future years.
Even though ocean energy is still in the early stages of development it has significant potential to provide clean energy as well as creating jobs in coastal and island communities. The report forecasts that ocean energy has a global market potential of 350 gigawatts (GW) and could create 680,000 direct jobs by 2050. At present, around 535 megawatts (MW) of ocean energy capacity has been installed worldwide.

Fewer wave and tidal power projects were installed in European waters in 2022 than any other year in over a decade, leaving the EU’s ambitious ocean energy deployment targets “increasingly at risk”, according to latest figures from industry advocacy body Ocean Energy Europe (OEE).

“Europe’s industrial leadership in ocean energy is increasingly at risk. Despite ambitious EU deployment targets, fewer projects hit European waters in 2022 than in any year since 2010,” said OEE in its annual report. “Meanwhile, global competitors like the US and China are catching up fast. If the EU is determined to come out on top in this new era of global cleantech competition, it cannot let its frontrunner position slip away.”

According to Rémi Gruet, CEO of OEE: “It’s not too late [for Europe] – the EU Green Deal Industrial Plan can empower the European Commission to rapidly restore Europe’s leadership in ocean energy. These statistics should be a wake-up call. Europe has the technical skills, the entrepreneurialism and the creativity to be the world number one in ocean energy but we need a clear plan.”
IRENA’s report states that the main barriers to the development of ocean energy technologies are the high cost of deployment and the lack of a supportive policy framework. Many countries have not yet developed specific policies or incentives to support the development and deployment of ocean energy technologies. This lack of policy support has hindered the growth of the sector and prevented it from achieving its full potential.

To overcome these barriers, dedicated ocean energy policies and incentives need to be developed, a supportive regulatory framework must be established and the necessary funding and financial support must be given to ocean energy projects.

Another important factor is international collaboration and knowledge sharing to accelerate the development and deployment of ocean energy technologies. This includes the sharing of best practices, the establishment of international standards and certification schemes, and the creation of a global database of ocean energy projects and technologies.
In conclusion, with the right policies and incentives in place, ocean energy technologies could provide a significant contribution to the global energy mix, creating a more sustainable and resilient energy system for future generations.

Emilia Samuelsson

Based on IRENA’s report “Scaling up Investments in Ocean Energy Technologies”. Published March 2023. Retrieved from
 ‘Historic low’ wave and tidal power build off EU sinking Brussel's cleantech vision: OEE, Recharge. 1st March 2023.


In this issue

The forefront of cleaner, people-centred cities

Cities are dense and struggling with high levels of air pollution, sedentary behaviour and noise problems linked to car-centred urban planning. Traffic also takes up large areas in cities, resulting in lack of green spaces, and it is obvious that our oil dependency has fuelled climate change. Three cities with governments that are up for the challenge of re-thinking cities are Paris, Oslo and Barcelona, which are working to transform their cities from car-
centred to people-centred.

Read more