Marine power sector slows as tough environment takes toll

Global tidal power set to hit 180MW by 2020 says Bloomberg, a fall on previous estimates

By Ed King

Global installations of tidal and wave power generators are slowing, due to a lack of investment and a tough marine environment, say analysts.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance has revised its 2020 projections downwards, now predicting tidal stream capacity will rise to 148MW and wave energy to 21MW. Last year it said they would hit 167MW and 74MW respectively.

Leading developers in the UK, France, Australia and Canada have struggled to deploy cost-effective  technologies durable enough to withstand huge pressures exerted by the seas.

“Tidal stream and wave power companies continue to face huge challenges,” said BNEF chair Michael Liebreich.

“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.”

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), marine energy could generate 20 to 80,000 TeraWatt hours (TWh) of electricity from tides, currents, waves as well as changes in temperature and salt content, although it does not expect significant deployment until 2030.

Current global electricity demand is rated at around 17,500TWh.

Challenges facing marine installations include the huge investments needed in steel and concrete, together with shipping costs and adequate port access.

“It is still unclear whether this can be done at a cost competitive with offshore wind, let alone other clean energy generating technologies,” Liebreich added.

The UK’s latest full scale tidal generator was presented to the media last week, ahead of its installation in Welsh waters.

Weighing in at 150 tonnes and with 16x20m frame, the 400kW device could power up to 100 homes, say developers.

If successful they have plans for a 10MW commercial array off the Pembrokeshire coast, which they claim could supply electricity to 10,000 homes.

But overall marine energy capacity remains small. Northern Ireland hosts the UK’s only other major pilot project, the 1.2MW SeaGen tidal stream device run by Siemens.

Plans have also been submitted for a tidal lagoon in Swansea, South Wales, which developers say would generate enough power for 155,000 homes.

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