Published on August 18th, 2014 | by Joshua S Hill


Marine Renewable Energy Technology Taking Longer Than Hoped

August 18th, 2014 by  

Tidal stream and wave power technologies are taking longer than hoped to develop, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, who have recently revised down their estimates for their deployment by 11% and 72% respectively. By 2020, Bloomberg predict that tidal stream and wave power will grow to 148 MW and 21 MW respectively, trivial figures when compared to their renewable cousins — wind and solar.

Marine renewable energy technology has been a dream for many of us for a long time. Given the stereotypical knowledge that planet Earth is mostly water, it strikes many as incongruous that marine renewable energy technologies are not receiving more attention and investment towards development.

Bloomberg believes that, among the many reasons why marine renewable energy technologies have not taken off, “project setbacks, fatigue among venture capital investors, and the sheer difficulty of deploying devices in the harsh marine environment” are primary factors contributing to the slow development of this renewable technology.

“Governments in countries such as the UK, France, Australia and Canada have identified tidal and wave as large opportunities not just for clean power generation, but also for creating local jobs and building national technological expertise,” said Angus McCrone, senior analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“That continues to be the case, and we will see further progress over the rest of this decade. But caution is necessary because taking devices from the small-scale demonstrator stage to the pre-commercial array stage is proving even more expensive and time-consuming than many companies – and their investors – expected.”

Tidal stream and wave power technologies are in no way new technologies, but getting them off the ground — so to speak — has proven difficult. Subsequently, there is often very little news about the technology, let alone any investment or installation progress. Even an analogue example such as looking at CleanTechnica’s own archives for either technology yields distressingly few results.

Nevertheless, countries do keep making the attempt to keep marine renewable energy as a possible future outcome. July of 2014 saw two separate announcements out of the UK — the expansion of wave and tidal energy zones and the planned construction of six tidal lagoons.

Bloomberg is not wrong, however, and these technologies have a tremendous uphill battle ahead of them, pointing out that several companies have failed or faltered over the past 12 months — including Oceanlinx and Wavebob, who both went out of business.

“Tidal stream and wave power companies continue to face huge challenges,” confirmed Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “Although the potential is almost limitless, it’s a tough environment.

“It is possible to make equipment reliable, as the offshore oil and gas industry has shown, but it’s not cheap. And you have to put a huge amount of steel and concrete into the water, which is inherently expensive. It is still unclear whether this can be done at a cost competitive with offshore wind, let alone other clean energy generating technologies.”

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  • tmac1
    As above, not only is there cost and corrosion concerns look at the tiny amount of total energy available, just insignificant c/w solar and wind. I love all renewables and here in maine and Nova Scotia we have big tides just not enough to come close to powering even a modest population of 1,000,000. It will produce steady even power just not enough.

  • Roy Wagner

    Offshore wind faces many of the challenges that wave energy faces.
    Weather Corrosion expensive sub-sea High Voltage cables to shore. Maintenance and repair issues.
    Hundreds of wave energy systems have been proposed . Just Google it.
    Under the waves, Floating on the waves, Fixed to the sea bed and shore based systems.
    Worldwide only a few have been deployed as full size prototypes several are in trials or being built right now.
    The article is a bit pessimistic how many car companies from 50 years ago still exist?
    Several new approaches have been funded in the last few years don’t give up on ocean wave energy OTEC or Ocean current . I am certain solutions will be found.

  • JamesWimberley

    The three marine technologies have very different profiles. Tidal lagoon is virtually riskless; the barrage on the Rance estuary in Brittany has been operating perfectly well since 1966 – 48 years. Tidal stream is in pilot, and the Siemens one at least seems to have achieved reliability. The question is cost, and whether there will ever be deployment at a large enough scale to bring it down. Wave energy still struggles with, well, the waves, which are still winning.

  • Mint

    Marine renewable’s demise is undoubtedly related to wind and solar’s success.

    I think of this like plasma vs LCD. Even 5 year old plasma picture quality is superior to today’s LCD, and its price got very good historically speaking, but it just got railroaded by the gargantuan LCD business. It gave good enough picture at such unfathomably low prices (Less than $0.25 per sq inch for sub-mm features? Wow) that everything else can’t compete.

    Unless there’s strong reason to believe that marine generation has a lower cost floor than wind (highly unlikely), it’s going to be stillborn.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I agree. The prices of wind and solar are dropping so fast that it’s going to be hard for a new technology to get established unless it is in some fashion vastly superior.

      It took a few decades to bring the cost of wind and solar down from “too expensive” to “two of the cheapest three”. I doubt there’s adequate funding/motivation to bring another technology to scale. And marine is really site limited….

      • eveee

        I think the considerations for wave, and tidal power will center around other characteristics than price alone. For example, gas turbines are used despite their relatively high cost, because of their peak characteristics. Tidal and wave have other characteristics. Geothermal and concentrated solar thermal are likewise struggling. At the moment, it is much easier and more cost effective to integrate wind and solar. In the future, these other sources will be needed to fill in the rest of the demand. Then their characteristics will have more value. I suggest they may compete with other parts of the spectrum of generation sources. Coal and other FF are only getting more expensive. Its odd then, that there is so much controversy about intermittency and base load, when clearly the market has spoken on the subject, preferring wind and solar.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Wave and tidal are not dispatchable. They are going to be closer to ‘always on’ supply. (Waves do flatten and there are slack tides.)

          Overall wave and tidal would have to compete cost-wise against wind/solar direct plus some level of stored wind/solar.

          The more we are able to keep wind going around the clock by going higher into more constant winds and offshore the harder it is going to be to compete with wind. Lots of direct use hours. And solar is playing into hours of high demand.

          I’d like to see marine technologies succeed, I just see it getting more and more difficult for them to grab market share.

    • djr417

      I would think that marine generation would have two big advantages going for it- consistent performance and less intrusive (atleast compared to wind turbines) but its very site specific, so unless one of those 2 pluses outweighs the added costs, its likely to remain a niche product. Islands where erecting large turbines is problematic comes to mind as possible installations.

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