Wave energy sources are not only available in plenty, but are also consistent, predictable and have the highest energy density among all renewable energy sources. The best resource is found between 40-60 degrees of latitude where the available resource is 30 to 70 kW/m, with peaks of 100 kW/m. The potential worldwide wave energy contribution to the electricity market is estimated to be of the order of 2,000 TWh/year, about 10% of the world electricity consumption.
The marine energy sector is set to grow faster. However, as it happened for the wind energy, government support, financial investment and technological advancement are needed to see the marine energy sector reach commercialisation.
"Wave energy technology," explains Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Gouri Nambudripad, "is being developed in a number of countries such as Canada, China, Chile, India, Japan, Russia and the US. However, Europe is leading the way in innovative technologies, pilot projects as well as pushing the existing technologies towards commercialisation including countries such as UK, Ireland, Portugal, Norway and Spain. In tidal energy, Canada, Argentina, Western Australia and Korea possess the resources, but here again Europe is a frontrunner, with the UK and France seemingly promising."
"The UK - having some of the best wave resource in the world - is targeting 40% of its energy from renewables by 2050 of which 20% is to be sourced from wave and tidal energy," continues Gouri Nambudripad. "The UK is estimated to possess the capacity to generate approximately 87TWh of wave power annually equivalent to 20-25% of current UK demand. Moreover, the UK has committed GBP 25m since 1999 towards the wave and tidal programme."
Wave energy devices can be divided into three main categories: shore-line, near-shore and offshore devices. Shore-line devices are devices on the shore. Near-shore devices are ones that are within 12-25 miles off the shore. Finally, offshore devices are those placed in waters of more than 50 metres in depth and/or more than 25 miles from the shore.
"About 1000 patents for wave energy converters are currently in the market and broadly fall under the above-mentioned categories. With so many technologies around there is no clear consensus on which technology will prevail over the others or which ones will be successful," concludes Frost & Sullivan Analyst Nambudripad.
There are two main research centres in Europe focusing on the development and commercialisation of ocean energy technologies. The first is the European Marine Energy Centre located in Orkney, Scotland. It provides developers with sites to test their prototypes. Government and other public sector organisations have invested around GBP 15 million in the creation of the centre and its two marine laboratories. The other is the Wave Energy Centre in Portugal. It provides strategic and technical support to companies, R&D institutions and public organizations. It also looks for international cooperation helping foreign companies test their devices in Portuguese waters.
The marine energy industry has a long way to go, but ongoing research and government support should lead to improvements making these technologies more economically attractive in the future. Combined with intensifying company activity in this field, Europe is poised to be the place to watch in the marine energy arena of the future.
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