European ocean energy installations return to pre-Covid levels

An aerial view of an Orbital Marine Power tidal turbine on September 6, 2021.

William Edwards | AFP | Getty Images

European installations of tidal and wave energy capacity surged in 2021, as the ocean energy sector saw deployments return to pre-pandemic levels and a substantial increase in investment.

In figures released Thursday, Ocean Energy Europe said 2.2 megawatts of tidal capacity was installed in Europe last year, compared to just 260 kilowatts in 2020. For wave power, 681 kW were installed, which which, according to the OEE, was a threefold increase.

Globally, 1.38 MW of wave power came online in 2021, while 3.12 MW of tidal capacity was installed. Capacity refers to the maximum amount of electricity that facilities can produce, not what they necessarily produce.

A total of 11.5 MW of tidal turbine installations are now in European waters, with the wave energy figure reaching 1.4 MW. Investments in the ocean energy sector reached 70 million euros ($76.8 million) last year. The OEE, a Brussels-based trade association, said this represented a 50% increase from 2020.

“Developing new low-carbon, indigenous and affordable energy sources is not a luxury, it is a necessity,” Rémi Gruet, CEO of Ocean Energy Europe, said in a statement.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, has set targets for the capacity of ocean energy technologies such as wave and tidal to reach 100 MW in the EU by 2025 and around 1 gigawatt of by 2030. Given the current level of facilities, achieving this goal is a great challenge.

“The EU must launch its Offshore Renewable Energy Strategy now and empower ocean energy to deliver energy independence and decarbonisation as part of a diverse renewable energy package” , said the OEE’s Gruet.

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

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Although there is excitement about the potential of ocean energy, the footprint of tidal and wave energy projects remains very small compared to other renewable energies. In 2021 alone, Europe installed 17.4 gigawatts of wind capacity, according to figures from industry body WindEurope.

Despite its small footprint, recent years have seen a number of developments within the ocean energy industry. Last July, a tidal turbine weighing 680 metric tons started producing grid-connected electricity at the European Marine Energy Center in Orkney, an archipelago located north of mainland Scotland.

A few months later, in October 2021, plans for a £1.7 billion (about $2.23 billion) project in the UK incorporating technologies such as underwater turbines were announced.

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

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