Experts pin down emerging techs for ocean energy sector

Illustration (Photo: EMEC)

A new report, prepared by 30 experts and stakeholders in the ocean energy industry, has identified future emerging technologies for ten different technology families which have the potential to provide significant step-change to the ocean energy sector.

With only 17MW installed marine energy operating capacity in the European waters, compared to 15.8GW of offshore wind’s, every technological solution proposed to bridge the gap between R&D stage and the commercialization of ocean energy devices can be seen for the time being as a future emerging technology, according to the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) report.

Illustration (Photo: EMEC)

The paper – titled Future emerging technologies for the ocean energy sector: innovation and game-changers – lists for the policy makers and all other ocean energy stakeholders an array of innovations together with information on advancement of each of the technology family, advantages, technological limitations, as well as their technology readiness level.

The experts have presented ten ocean energy technology families, which group together wave or tidal converters, subsystems and components that are characterized by a common operating or design principle.

In Europe, a large variety of concepts have been developed for ocean energy conversion, with more than 200 different devices proposed, according to the report.

Tidal energy

In terms of speed of development, the first generation of tidal energy converters is heading the group, the report states.

Sabella’s D10 tidal turbine (Photo: Sabella)

They have reached the pre-commercial stage with the total installed capacity of around 12MW in Europe and the speed of development is medium, with devices having reached maturity after 10 or more years of R&D.

When it comes to second generation machines – floating tidal devices – speed of the technology development is medium/fast (meaning between less than 5 to 15 years), with some floating tidal platforms already at an advanced stage of development

Third generation tidal energy converters extract energy from a tidal flow or water flow using the sails, kites, or simulating fish-swimming motion. The speed of development for this group has been found as medium/fast, and is affected by the development of materials and ancillary technology.

Wave energy

As for wave energy, the research goes back 40 years, according to the report. The availability of testing facilities and new computational tools are making research more accessible and opening up new opportunities leading to novel approach to the first generation of wave energy concepts.

HACE device (Photo: HACE)

The advancement of artificial intelligence and learning algorithms offer an opportunity for developing designs which are more efficient, the paper states. Development speed is in medium-slow range.

Novel wave energy concepts exploit the material-flexibility and the orbital velocities of water particles to convert wave power to electricity.

They are characterized by an overall simplicity of design compared to first generation wave energy devices.

Yet they are at early stages of development, with no device installed in real sea and the maximum power rating for the device yet to be identified, according to the report produced from the workshop held in March 2018.

Expert conclusions and recommendations

An integrated systems approach is required to develop successful marine energy systems. Therefore, the report recommends collaboration with industry and engagement with original equipment manufacturers from the early stage of development.

Also, system capabilities and requirements should be properly defined and made transparent to increase the effectiveness of future emerging technologies development and applicability to ocean energy technologies.

The transferability of solutions from other sector, as well as the development of new technologies and materials could impact significantly on the speed of development of future emerging technologies for ocean energy, according to the report.

A further analysis is needed to priorities which options could have the greatest impact on the sector in achieving short-term goals, and long-term ambitions of having 100GW installed capacity by 2050, the report concludes.