Outlook for EU ocean energy forum

A new plan backed by the European Commission (EC) encourages companies and organisations scattered across Europe to marshall resources, jointly consolidate strengths, weaken risks and set targets for marine energy.

By Elisabeth Jeffries on Mar 10, 2014

The white paper, which sets up an EU-wide ocean energy forum and authorises an industry roadmap, aims to build a stronger ocean energy base with a view to industrialisation in the 2020s.

Previous collaborative projects have worked on a national or regional basis, but this is the first pan-European initiative backed formally by European institutions. As a significant player, the tidal stream sector is scheduled to play a major part. Ocean thermal and wave energy, along with tidal range and salinity gradient power, are the others covered in the plan.

Welcoming the EC communication, Siemens Marine Current Turbines chairman, Kai Koelmel said: “For the first time, this cooperation is driven at a European level. The European Commission is now taking up the initiative and calling on industry to work with the Commission and member states - via the ocean energy forum - to come up with an action plan. It will also make money available to support this work.”

Workstreams to find solutions

The first major action point in the white paper is the creation of the forum consisting of three workstreams. These cover technology and resources, administrative issues and finance, and environmental matters. The aim is to plug gaps in knowledge, shape new networks and solve financial problems.

“The forum is a professional platform to discuss issues and find solutions – we want to avoid a talking shop and hope to have people on board with executive power in their own countries,” explains Remi Gruet, policy and operations director at trade association Ocean Energy Europe.

Ocean Energy Europe expects that the forum will help reduce risks in the tidal sector. “An example of the type of problem is the framework for loan guarantees – agreements of this kind help reduce risk in a concrete way,” says Gruet.

The technology and resource workstream will assess the suitability of different risk-sharing mechanisms such as soft loans, co-investment and public guarantees.It will also engage in other activities, such as assessing ocean energy resources and offshore infrastructures like ports and vessels, and seek improvements in integrating offshore renewables into the energy system.

Resource management

Better and more efficient resource use is a major part of the ocean energy forum’s role, drawing on lessons from previous initiatives in various sectors. R&D funding is a case in point. For example, in one case EU money was channelled into several marine power pilot projects, some of which did not find private sector match funding. This is because some of the private sector funding had been diverted to other technologies. One objective is to avoid this kind of wasted resource allocation.

“If you have a diverse range of technologies being tested, you need to coordinate it so you get private and public sector funding, If there is no discussion, it is more difficult to deliver successful technologies,” points out Gruet.

“There is always scope for coordination, and you can get a degree of consensus on the types of technologies that might work,” says Gruet.

Maximising funds

In the same way, the finance workstream will consider research funding applications and how best to channel them.

“Billions of research and development funding will become available through the EU Horizon 2020 programme and other initiatives. We want to make sure that as much as possible of that money is directed at wave and tidal industry development,” states Koelmel.

By acting as a single horizontal platform, funding could be maximised. Meanwhile, the environment workstream will encourage collaborative work on environmental impact monitoring. “This could share best practice in consenting process, such as Marine Scotland's one-stop-shop for seabed leases, environmental and other permits,” explains Gruet.

Industry roadmap

In addition, the creation of a strategic industry roadmap is a task due to be completed in 2016. Delegates from member states, regional authorities, NGOs and other stakeholders will set out clear targets for the development of the sector as well as a time frame for their achievement.

The roadmap will set technology priorities.

“What will also drive the industry would be if the forum sets a target commitment or a particular number of gigawatts of ocean energy projects to be installed by a particular date,” says Koelmel.

In the longer term, the white paper envisages the possibility of a major European Industrial Initiative (EII) in 2017-2020 based on the outcomes of the ocean energy forum. This draws on the experience of preceding EIIs in other industries. EIIs are public-private partnerships that bring together industry, researchers, member states and the European Commission to set out and achieve clear and shared goals over a specific time frame.

They have often been an effective means of sharing risk and leveraging private investment, according to the paper’s authors, who say the EII “is likely to constitute an important stepping stone on the path to a full industrial roll-out.”

It would help formalise cooperation between stakeholders, facilitate access to finance and put in place the strategic roadmap.