Classifications of ocean energy
Ocean energy can be broadly divided into the following: Wave energy, tidal energy, ocean thermal energy, and salinity gradient
- Wave energy utilizes the kinetic energy of the waves to turn a turbine and produces power
- Tidal energy is generated by capturing the water during high tides at an altitude and let go of the water at low tide. A turbine, which is placed along the way, is turned during this process to produce power
- Ocean thermal energy utilizes the difference in temperature between the surface of the ocean and its depth to run a heat pump to produce power.
- Salinity gradient utilizes the fact that the density of salt water is higher than that of fresh water. This fact is used to, in conjunction with a membrane, to produce pressure and to turn a turbine as a result.
How far from commercialisation
Except for wave and tidal, the other two – ocean thermal and salinity gradient – are in the initial stages of research. Even for wave and tidal, there are only a few commercial projects. There are a handful of tidal barrages operating in the world, and there are a couple of experimental/pilot projects or very small capacity commercial projects running for wave energy.
Market size and growth
A study undertaken to assess the potential of ocean energy as a source of renewable energy to generated electricity by UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the World Energy Council (WEC), the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Carbon Trust (CT) concluded that marine energy has the potential to make a significant contribution to energy supply in the UK and internationally. The opportunities for investment are huge and ocean energy conversion systems are being developed in a number of countries, with the United Kingdom leading the development efforts, followed by the United States. In addition, numerous research and development initiatives are currently being pursued in various academic institutions throughout the world.
Among the twenty four countries which has developed ocean energy conversion systems, 19 countries have installed wave system and 13 countries have installed tidal stream system.
An independent market assessment estimated the world-wide potential of wave energy economic contribution in the electricity market to be in the order of 2,000 TWh/year, which is about 12% of world electricity consumption (based on 2009 data) and is comparable to the amount of electricity currently produced world-wide by large scale hydroelectric projects.
In terms of market value, the potential market for wave energy is worth about $1 trillion worldwide, according to the World Energy Council. In the United States alone, wave technology could supply 6.5 percent of the nation's energy.
The global tidal range energy potential is estimated to be about 2.5-3 TW, about 1 TW being available at comparably shallow waters. Estimates of potential electricity generation vary between 200-400 TWh. (Source: IEA-OES Annual Report, 2009)
The UK, Portugal, Spain and Norway in particular harbor excellent wave power resource.
While most new explorations into tidal energy are currently being done in Europe (with the UK being a leader in this regard), more countries such as China, Australia and Russia can be expected to invest significantly into tidal energy explorations in the next future. It is expected that it will take at least until 2015 for any of the ocean energy sources to be commercialized.
Business opportunities in ocean energy
The fact that the marine renewable sector is less well developed than other energy industries presents companies with both opportunities and challenges. The lack of an established industry structure can make entry into the market uncertain for newcomers. However, this lack of structure also means that companies are potentially more able to create and take opportunities than is possible in other parts of the energy industry that are developed and more mature.
Opportunities exist in the following areas across the marine energy value chain:
- Operation and Maintenance
A wide range of companies are involved in the marine renewable sector. The figure below shows the key segments of the sector - services that are needed for the successful completion of a project range from insurance and finance, resource assessments, environmental surveys, design, manufacture, offshore construction, operation and decommissioning.
Different members of the supply chain are responsible for different parts of projects depending on the type of project and its stage of development. Key classes of firms that are involved in the supply chain include Legal firms, Financial firms, Insurance firms, Marine Service firms, Technology Developers, Manufacturers, Test Facilities, Project Developers, Installation Contractors, and Energy Majors/Utilities.
Sustainability in the long run
Wave and Tidal power will grow to about 2030, after which it starts to decline as other technologies, with fewer mechanical parts, emerge as cheaper options. Whilst it is forecast to continue to have some niche applications by 2050, they are seen as only some geographic specific applications rather than more ubiquitous projects.
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