Ocean power plants in Europe return to pre-crisis levels

Top view of a tidal turbine from Orbital Marine Power on September 6, 2021.

William Edwards | AFP | Getty Images

In 2021, European tidal and wave power generation installations jumped as the ocean energy sector saw a return to pre-pandemic levels and a significant increase in investment.

Ocean Energy Europe reported that 2.2 megawatts of tidal current power was installed in Europe last year, up from 260 kilowatts in 2020, according to data released Thursday. For wave energy, 681 kW was installed, which OEE says is a threefold increase.

In 2021, 1.38 MW of wave energy was commissioned worldwide, and 3.12 MW of tidal currents. Power refers to the maximum amount of electricity that installations can produce, not what they necessarily produce.

In total, 11.5 MW of tidal current installations are currently in European waters, and the wave energy figure is 1.4 MW. Last year, investment in the ocean energy sector reached 70 million euros ($76.8 million). OEE, a Brussels-based trade association, said it was 50% more than in 2020.

“Developing new carbon-free, local and affordable energy sources is not a luxury, but a necessity,” Ocean Energy Europe CEO Remy Grouet said in a statement.

The European Commission, the executive body of the EU, has set a target to increase the capacity of ocean energy technologies such as waves and tides to 100 MW by 2025 and to around 1 gigawatt by 2030. Given the current level of installs, achieving this goal is a big challenge.

“The EU needs to start its offshore renewables strategy now and enable ocean power to achieve energy independence and decarbonization within a diverse set of renewables,” said OEE’s Grueth.

“The 2021 figures reflect a strong, adaptable sector and show that ocean energy has proven itself both as a technology and as an investment.”

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Despite worries about the potential of marine energy, the impact of tidal and wave projects remains very small compared to other renewable energy sources. According to industry organization WindEurope, 17.4 gigawatts of wind farms were installed in Europe in 2021 alone.

Despite the small area, a number of developments have taken place in the ocean energy industry in recent years. Last July, a 680 metric ton tidal turbine began generating electricity at the European Marine Energy Center in Orkney, an archipelago north of the Scottish mainland.

A few months later, in October 2021, plans were announced for a £1.7bn (about $2.23bn) project in the UK involving technology including subsea turbines.

Just this week, it was announced that an independent panel would look into using the Severn Estuary, a large body of water between England and Wales, to harness tidal energy.

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