• Wind Power
  • Renewable Energy
  • Tidal Power
  • Tidal Energy
  • Hydrogen

Ocean Energy Is Vital to the Low Carbon 2.0 Energy Transition

Peter Asmus
Sep 29, 2020

Guidehouse Insights

As the world seeks out new decarbonization strategies to address the impacts of climate change, the success stories of solar and wind need to be complemented by other renewable energy technologies. One of the most promising untapped resources can be found in the ocean. While ocean currents flow at only 15%-20% of typical wind farm wind speeds, the density of water—approximately 800 times greater than air—yields much higher energy from these flows. These marine currents can be constant currents (as with gyre boundary currents) or tidal streams, which reverse twice daily with the lunar orbit. These currents are always present, unlike intermittent wind and solar.

I argue that marine currents present the next great frontier for renewable energy development, though many made that same argument a decade ago. What has changed is that the technology has advanced and the impacts of global climate change are accelerating, moving major investments into new, carbon-free solutions. For example, Citi just announced a $250 billion commitment to climate change solutions.

From Wind Power Success to Ocean Energy Exploration

When I found out my book Reaping the Wind was being reprinted, my thoughts turned to James Dehlsen, who emerged as a central character in the book. Dehlsen’s 30-year track record as arguably the most successful US wind energy entrepreneur and creator of GE Wind illustrates the challenges of bringing new renewable technologies to market. 

Dehlsen formed Aquantis to leverage his past innovations with wind technology for marine turbine development. The Aquantis turbines are configured to work in tidal and boundary currents. The first Aquantis tidal resource deployment is set for the UK, where the company has a 30-turbine project site in coastal Wales. As noted in a recent Guidehouse Insights blog, SIMEC Atlantis Energy is also gaining traction in the UK with a 398 MW project in the works. (Additionally, my last blog referenced two small tidal projects on remote microgrid island sites in Scotland and France.)

In the US, the Florida Gulf Stream is the Permian Basin of ocean current energy with as much as 18.6 GW of potential renewable energy. In Florida, wind power is not viable, and atmospheric conditions limit solar power. With federal and state support, Aquantis is planning for the 600 MW Franklin Array, the first ocean turbine power project to help meet the clean power needs of the US Southeast.

Parallels Between Ocean Energy and Hydrogen

The story of ocean energy parallels the story of hydrogen, another transformative clean energy 2.0 solution. Hydrogen generated significant interest in the past but was largely abandoned. Now it is gaining traction, with investors seeking innovative ways to transition to the new low carbon economy.

The ocean remains the largest untapped carbon-free energy supply globally. One reason why ocean energy failed to gain traction in the US in the past decade is the industry’s lack of clout in the political arena, allowing more commercialized technologies to receive the lion’s share of public investments.

As governments and corporations increasingly turn to 100% renewable energy targets, ocean energy sources such as tidal and other currents will emerge as a necessary addition to solar, wind, and other carbon-free supply-side options. Capable of distributed and large-scale deployments, ocean energy projects inching forward now can help test the appetite of regulators and investors seeking out fresh opportunities to support the next big thing on the renewable energy horizon.