The tide is turning for marine power investment

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When we think of renewable energy, we think of wind and solar. Investments in these established, large-scale technologies dominate the global renewable energy market. Nearly half of new investments in renewable energy are solar. Onshore wind investments in 2020 exceeded $40 billion, a record high. However, the downside of wind and solar is that they are sporadic. You can’t predict how much wind or sun there will be, so you need backup generation. The only thing you can predict is the tides.

Wave power is growing steadily, with record investments from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2022 funding new projects, but electricity generation from undersea currents has yet to see similar investment. In October 2022, the Department of Energy announced an additional $35 million in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act to advance tidal and river current energy systems. However, when comparing these grants to the total $20 billion invested in wind in 2021, there is a clear discrepancy. There are no large-scale tidal power plants in the United States and only three projects in the world.

What has happened with tidal power in recent years? In 2021, in the northernmost waters of Scotland, of 02 Tidal turbine spins its giant blades for the first time. The world’s largest commercial-scale turbine is a project for Scottish marine power company Orbital and is the culmination of 15 years of project development. In 2023, another steel turbine will spin at up to 27 RPM using the power of tidal currents in the waters of the Etelle estuary in Brittany, France. It’s a foray into France’s promising but stalled tidal power relaunch, this time by another tidal power manufacturer, Nova Innovation. Backed by the EU’s €5 million Element Marine Renewables Technology Development Scheme, the 50kW turbine is the first step into an entirely new market. The EU’s Marine Renewable Energy Strategy sets out plans to operate 1GW of marine energy projects by 2030. Just 67kW of tidal capacity was installed in 2022, the lowest increase since 2010.

So why isn’t investment in marine power happening at the same scale as wind and solar? Today on The Interchange, host David Vanmiller joins Orbital Marine Power CEO Andrew Scott and Tim Ramsey from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hydroelectric Technologies Office to explore the technologies that could bring marine power to the same level as wind and solar.

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