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Opportunities and ChallengesThe Opportunity and Challenge for Ocean Energy as Part of Energy System Decarbonisation: the UK Scenario
Authors: Henry Jeffrey, Mark Winskel, UK Energy Research Centre, Edinburgh University, UK
As part of this, the uK has set out a legally binding framework for decarbonisation from now to 2050. Following a recommendation by the uK Committee on Climate Change, the uK’s reduction target for all greenhouse gases (ghgs) is
These targets – some of the most ambitious legally binding levels of ghg reductions anywhere in the world – have been incorporated in the uK Climate Change Act (uK government, 2008a). Ocean energy is one of a number of emerging low carbon supply options that has the potential to help meet these targets.
Alongside major deployments of more mature low carbon supply technologies over the next decade, there is an opportunity for currently less mature emerging technologies, such as ocean energy, to contribute significantly to deeper decarbonisation over the medium to long term. Realising this potential will involve a complex interplay between technology development (and learning-by-research) and technology deployment (and learning-by-experience).
This paper begins by highlighting the specific technical challenges associated with the development of ocean energy. It will then use the UK as a case study to illustrate and discuss the potential deployment that could be achieved if these challenges are overcome and ocean energy competes in the overall energy mix. Building on the results from this case study the paper will culminate by laying out and summarizing the high level challenges associated with the large scale international deployment of ocean energy.
For example, there is still a wide range of engineering concepts for capturing wave energy, including oscillating water columns, overtopping devices, point absorbers, terminators, attenuators and flexible structures. tidal current energy exhibits less variety, with most prototype designs based on horizontal axis turbines, but vertical-axis rotors, reciprocating hydrofoils and Venturi-effect devices are also being developed. Two UK based companies (Pelamis Wave Power and Marine Current turbines) have recently installed full-scale devices that are representative of the sectors’ progress, Figure 1.
In the wake of the 1970s energy crisis, a number of wave energy Research & development (R&d) programmes were established internationally, but – in contrast with wind energy – these efforts were not sustained, and there was very limited innovation in the ocean energy sector from the mid-1980s to late 1990s. Renewed policy interest (and public and private funding) over the last decade has provoked a resurgence in innovation activity, and the emergence of multiple device designs. These more recent efforts have been led initially by small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and university consortia, although large power companies and large scale public-private programmes are increasingly involved.
International interest and development activity has grown rapidly in recent years, and over a dozen countries now have specific support policies for the ocean energy sector. Additionally, full scale ocean energy test centres have been established in the uK and continental Europe, with new centres being built in the united States and Canada. Additionally, this international interest and growth has lead to the development of international standards specifically for ocean energy.
The nascent status of ocean energy technology creates considerable challenges for its development. In particular, there is a need to strike a balance between trials of the most advanced prototype devices, and also research on more radical but less developed designs and components. the Carbon trust have indicated long term learning rates for wave and tidal energy of up to 15% and 10% respectively, but also highlighted the importance of taking advantage of step change improvements (Carbon trust, 2006).
For this scenario to be realised, over the period to 2020 there is likely to be a progressive device design consensus, with a distinct group of wave and tidal designs becoming ‘industry standards’. Consolidation in the marketplace is also likely, with mergers and acquisitions allowing hybrids of the best technologies to emerge and reduce overall costs. up to and beyond 2020, it is conceivable that disruptive technologies, embodying novel approaches to energy extraction, will be introduced, allowing for accelerated cost reduction, although the timing of these breakthroughs is difficult to predict. UKERC’s Marine Energy technology Roadmap (UKERC, 2008a) details the technology and commercial challenges involved in establishing a deployment strategy for the ocean energy sector up
Beyond 2030, it is implausible to speculate in any detail as to the future direction of the industry; however, given continued publicly and privately funded development programmes, and associated learning effects, device costs are likely to decrease, and performance increase. While an accelerated development trajectory for the ocean energy sector involves some degree of design consensus over the medium term, there is a danger that if this consensus is imposed too early it may lead to ‘lock-in’ around devices with less scope for development in the longer term.
The significant levels of deployment indicated in the case study scenarios, when replicated internationally, are unlikely to be met with the existing international supply chain infrastructure, and will require considerable investment in specialised and dedicated installation equipment. Some of this investment is already underway: for example, some technology developers have already taken delivery of dedicated installation vessels. Additionally, technology acceleration will involve measures to address the generic technical challenges highlighted in the UKERC Marine technology Roadmap (Figure 4, below)
A coherent and adaptive approach to policy, across international energy arenas, will be needed to provide an appropriate combination of support mechanisms, and ensure effective distribution of investments as the sector matures.
Overall, in the short term, there will be considerable deployment challenges for the sector, with planning and legislation, human resource skills shortages, and availability of installation vessels all being significant hurdles. despite a certain level of existing headroom, grid reinforcement will also be a significant challenge for many countries during this period.
In the medium term the challenges of planning and regulation should have been largely addressed. despite the capacity that will have been built up in the preceding period, skills shortages and availability of vessels will still be a challenge to the sector due to the ramp-up in build rate in this period. given the remote nature of many of the ocean energy resources, major grid reinforcements will be a major challenge during this period, with the need for an offshore grid highly likely. International initiatives, such as the “European Supergrid”, are already beginning to address this issue.
The long term appears less challenging for the sector, to the extent that many earlier limitations need to have already been managed (such as supply chain constraints, planning constraints and grid implications). however, additional capacity may be exploitable by this time, so that deployment may continue increasing beyond, for example that indicated in the uK case study, above. In addition, competition for resources from other energy and non-energy sectors could have significant impacts on their availability to the ocean energy sector across all time periods.
The case study scenario described here indicates that technology acceleration has the potential to make a substantial difference to the deployment of ocean energy technology in the uK, with initial deployments starting soon after 2010, and rapid expansion after 2030. under these accelerated development assumptions, ocean energy supplies almost 15% of all electricity generated by 2050, and additional exploitable resource may allow for further increases to this figure.
Accelerating ocean energy to achieve these deployment levels will require sustained support for its development over time. A coherent and adaptive approach to policy, in the uK and internationally, will be needed to ensure effective investments as the sector matures. In particular, there is a need to strike an effective balance between technology-push and marketpull mechanisms, to allow for design consensus, but at the same time avoiding ‘lock-out’ of breakthrough technologies which may allow for step-change improvements. there are also considerable associated investment needs in supply chains, installation capacity, and electricity networks. With these in place, the work here indicates that ocean energy can become a significant contributor to low carbon energy supply systems in the UK and beyond.
More specifically, the research reported here has been supported by energy systems analysis using the UK MARKAl elastic demand (MEd) model. the operation of the UK MARKAl MEd model is detailed in the report (Anandarajah et al., 2008).
Carbon trust (2006) Future Marine Energy: Results of the Marine Energy Challenge: Cost competitiveness and growth of wave and tidal stream energy. london, Carbon trust.
CCC (Committee on Climate Change) (2008) building a lowcarbon economy – the uK’s contribution to tackling climate change. tSO, london.
IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) (2007). The Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007. IPCC, Geneva.
Jeffrey H. (2008) An Overview of the issues associated with the future costing of marine energy and the application of learning rate theory, ICOE, brest 2008.
UKERC (2008a) UKERC Marine (Wave and Tidal Current) Renewable Energy Technology Roadmap: Summary Report. UKERC, Edinburgh.
Winskel, M. (2007) Renewable Energy Innovation: Collaborative Learning and Intellectual Property. International Journal of global Energy Issues, Vol. 27, no. 4, 472-491.
1. The UK Climate Change Committee recommended that the decarbonisation targets be applied to all greenhouse gases, and not just CO2 emissions. This was subsequently accepted in the uK Climate Change Act (CCC, 2008; UK government, 2008). non– CO2 emissions accounted for 15% of total ghg emissions in 2006 (CCC, 2008). the modelling scenarios presented in this report only consider CO2 emissions.