Thoughts after Thetis 2014: Social Acceptability of Marine Energy

Chris Campbell, Executive Director of Marine Renewables Canada, has written an article after the organization’s participation in Thetis 2014 marine renewable energy conference in France.

Thoughts after Thetis 2014: Social Acceptability of Marine Energy

At France’s Thetis 2014 conference and tradeshow, Marine Renewables Canada was engaged in intensive meetings with local development agencies and in the B2B meetings stimulated by the world’s interest in the Canadian marine renewables strategy that has taken shape in Nova Scotia.

After a panel examining questions around the social acceptability of marine energy, we had the role of assessing progress, addressing the issues of what we need that license for and why we should bother with marine renewables in an already-crowded marine space! In reflecting on this, it seems that the implications set up by the session are setting us in the wrong direction!

Whenever any of us speaks to a public group, we have been challenged over why marine renewables have not been moved on earlier. We have social license and the real issue is how we hang on to it!

It is assumed that the traditional and emerging fishery and renewable energy industry can move beyond posturing and find additive and transformative solutions for two industries in a state of flux. Beyond that, our challenge is to avoid that public fascination turning to doubt, and maybe eventually to a “why bother” question. Those doubts will tend to grow if there appears to be no engagement or visible activity. Doubts will be reinforced if it is not clear what role marine renewables will play. They will really take hold if we are too slow to show how marine renewables can fill that role.

Which brings us to the issues of actions and communications.

On the actions front, and to repeat comments made in past years, we must all recognize any experience development in the world of marine renewables, as a step forward for the entire industry. We must focus on the achievements and any knowledge we can transfer from other marine industries. There is experience from tests and pilots which confirms that interaction with the marine environment is as expected. There are industry/government/community collaborations that are focusing scarce resources on critical development initiatives. In a 2015 world there is a growing body of knowledge and every initiative must not be treated as if it was the first!

On the communications front, we also need to make a shift in messaging. The world is taking the first faltering steps in an energy transition that will take decades if not the remainder of this century. Marine renewables will have to be a part of that new energy supply: indeed in some lucky countries it alone might be 5, 10 or even 20% of their clean energy future. We are also seeing industrial and economic change in marine industries and coastal economies – an example is that 60% of Hong Kong was involved in shipping in 1960, while now only 10% is involved in what id still one of the world’s greatest shipping hubs! Marine renewables redeploys marine science, technology, construction and operations into an industry whose resources will never run out!

So the fundamental message is that we are making progress in the early steps that will lead us to industrial scale approaches that see competitive marine renewable energy making a significant contribution to the energy transition and redevelopment of coastal and marine economies. In that message we must make it clear that this is the emergence of a new worldwide industry. We must create a vision what our longer-term competitive contribution to both energy and economy can be.

We have a plan to live up to that fascination. That plan needs us to accelerate the progress, advance the emergence of examples of what marine power plants will look like and involve, and keep a focus on delivery of marine renewables as a competitive clean energy solution. If we can do this, we can keep social acceptance. My oh my, we might even excite the bankers!

 Press release, April 22, 2014; Image: Marine Renewables Canada