Golden tickets to the ocean energy factory

Interreg vouchers support marine energy to exploit its potential with strategic real sea testing.

By Vinicius ValenteNorth West Europe programme
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No, these coupons won’t grant you VIP access to a magical chocolate factory nor to any of Roald Dahl’s novel universes, and yet, by no means, should their golden value be underestimated. Since 2016, the Interreg North-West Europe programme supports a set of projects dedicated to unlocking the potential of marine energy technologies in the region. Over 40 M EUR are being invested in six pioneering initiatives that aim at supporting SMEs whilst tackling challenges for the deployment of technologies and contributing to the European energy transition.

Interreg projects are enabling crucial real sea demonstration to help prove technologies and reach commercial roll-out.

Nicolas Wallet
Coordinator of the FORESEA project at the European Marine Energy Centre

Despite their strong potential benefits, the costs associated with the demonstration of low TRL (technology readiness level) technologies cannot be neglected. Pre-commercial technologies also come with high risks, which often fail to surpass the famous “valley of death” of innovation. Here, Interreg NWE marine energy test vouchers are making a difference in the sector by supporting SMEs from North-West Europe in bearing this combination of high risks and costs and, as a consequence, promoting innovation and delivering new technologies to the market.

“Interreg voucher schemes help technology developers reach financial close while maintaining a healthy pipeline of promising projects. This win-win approach ensures that as many machines as possible hit the water”, says Victor Kempf from Ocean Energy Europe, the largest global network of ocean energy professionals and partner in two Interreg NWE projects.

“Interreg projects are enabling crucial real sea demonstration to help prove technologies and reach commercial roll-out. Marine energy test sites help to alleviate these risks using project voucher schemes”, says Nicolas Wallet, coordinator of the FORESEA project at the European Marine Energy Centre.

One of the projects led by EMEC is called “Funding Ocean Renewable Energy through Strategic European Action” or simply FORESEA. The initiative received over 6.5 M ERDF and provided free access to a world-leading network of marine energy test centres via its voucher scheme. Since its launch, FORESEA has increased real-sea testing activity in the sector, with 30 technologies successfully deployed at North-West Europe test centres with the project’s support.

Amongst FORESEA’s set of demo projects is “Orbital’s SR2000” floating tidal turbine, which was deployed at EMEC in October 2016 and tested was until September 2018. During the testing period, SR2000 operated on site continuously and generated over 3 GWh of electricity, supplying on average 7% – with peaks of up to 25% – of the Orkney Islands’ (Scotland) total electricity demand. Also, the installation, maintenance and recovery operations were carried out with small vessels, verifying the economic potential of floating tidal energy at full commercial scale.

“The success of Orbital Marine Power is  evidence to the impact FORESEA has played on the sector. The SR1-2000 2MW floating tidal turbine proved to be one of the key players in harnessing tidal energy in recent years. Orbital Marine Power aims to continue to prove their concept with the Orbital O2 device currently in construction as they branch out to commercialisation”, Nicolas continues.

The project efforts were widely recognised in 2019. FORESEA was among the runner-ups of the EU Sustainable Energy Innovation Award and was granted with the follow-up project “Demonstration Programme for Ocean Energy Pilot Farms and Supporting Technologies” (OceanDEMO). After the identification of key market failures relating to the first multi-device ocean energy farms by its predecessor, OceanDEMO will address these via three key elements: demonstrating technologies, developing a supply chain and supporting the creation of an enabling policy environment for marine energy. At this stage, the project has already organised three calls for free access to its testing sites with over 20 projects in the pipeline.

Interreg projects have helped tremendously – and will continue to help – by putting machines in the water, proving and de-risking the technologies.

Victor Kempf
Ocean Energy Europe

Other on-going Interreg partnerships are the “Ocean Power Innovation Network” (OPIN) and the Marine Energy Alliance (MEA), both encouraging cross-sectoral and transnational cooperation to SMEs with golden ticket ideas.

“North-West Europe is home to a breadth of marine energy technology developers and as a result a network of companies across supply chain, test sites, developers and academia has been created which places the region at the heart of this emerging industry”, highlighted Nicolas Wallet.

Despite the on-going initiatives, marine energy still accounts for the smallest portion of renewable energy electricity amongst the variety of renewable sources. This can be explained by the existence of the obstacles of lack access to finance and markets, grid infrastructure, technology development as well as environmental and administrative issues. According to Ocean Energy Europe, marine energy can deliver 10% of Europe’s electricity consumption by 2050. “3GW of ocean energy can be deployed by 2030, and over 90% of this will be in European waters. How can we achieve this vision for the next decade? Deploy, deploy, deploy”, the association states.

“Interreg projects have helped tremendously – and will continue to help – by putting machines in the water, proving and de-risking the technologies”, Victor Kempf concluded.