May 16th, 2014 -- European Maritime Day is celebrated annually across the European Union (EU) on 20 May. This is relevant to the Caribbean as large parts of the EU and of course the entire Caribbean have a very close relationship with the ocean and secondly, the ocean is an enormous source of energy. It is estimated that 0.1% of the energy in ocean waves could be capable of supplying the entire world's energy requirements five times over. The EU has established a trinity of energy policy goals, energy supplies must be: i) secure; ii) sustainable and iii) underpin the EU’s global competitiveness.
The energy challenges facing the Caribbean are remarkably similar. The development of this emerging sector would not only help us to achieve our mutual renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction targets, but could fuel economic growth through innovation and create new, high-quality jobs. Also for these reasons, renewable energy is a key component of the EU's most recent policy document on development cooperation; the 2011 "Agenda for Change".
So, the potential is significant and, for now, the EU position is very strong, and we are working very hard to consolidate our position as a global leader and expand our efforts. Today, ocean energy covers around 0.02% of EU energy needs and it is primarily used for electricity production. The target is for 15% of EU electricity to be provided from ocean energy by 2050. This is a massive task, but one which the EU must deliver on. In the following, I will briefly outline how the EU intends to achieve this goal. This may inspire a similar process in the Caribbean or ignite desires for collaboration on specific areas. As in many areas, the EU has started at the policy level. Important "Communications" from the European Commission, e.g. on "Blue Energy" (2012), demonstrate how the EU views a possible development of marine energy.
These policy documents are complemented by a wide array of documents, statements etc from the EU private sector, academia, civil society groups and governments. The Action Plan for ocean energy in the EU comprises two phases. A first phase from 2014 – 2016, which is seeing the establishment of an EU-wide Ocean Energy Forum and the formulation of an Ocean Energy Strategic Roadmap. From 2017-2020, Phase 2 should see the implementation of a European Industrial Initiative, similar to a previous very successful development relating to wind energy, and the adoption of sector specific guidelines/legislation.
Over the past seven years EUR 600 million private sector investments have been made in the sector and this amount has been complemented by substantial public funding for research either from the EU wide level or from individual Member States. Thus, today the EU has developed several devices of 1Mega Watt (MW) and more and deployed these in our waters. The goal is to deliver reliable and cost-effective electricity from larger-scale projects of up to 50MW by 2020 in preparation for wholesale market roll-out from 2025.
An EU development of particular interest for the Caribbean is the development of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC). Some of the Outermost Regions of the EU are small island societies, very similar to the many Small Island Developing States of the Caribbean. With OTEC, the difference of temperature between cold, deep seawaters and warm, shallow waters creates a thermodynamic cycle, which can be used for producing electricity. For many Caribbean islands, the conditions for this type of technology could be ideal. Indeed a prototype has already been launched in the French island of La Reunion in the Indian Ocean. Here in the Caribbean, developments are already underway to explore the technology in Aruba and Martinique.
With quite a remarkable level of foresight the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), based in the UK, was established ten (10) years and is now a world leader for real time testing and development of marine energy standards. Here in the Caribbean, the UK/Antigua company Seatricity has designed, developed and patented what appears to be a viable, practical and reliable wave energy plant – with prototypes having been tested in the Caribbean Sea. Testing has now moved on to EMEC in northern Europe.
My hope is that the EU can establish strong research bonds with the Caribbean on marine energy, ideally building on the already impressive results of our EU-CARINET collaboration. This is an exciting time for energy in the Caribbean. A CARICOM energy policy was adopted in 2013, and the very strong contours of a road map to implement this policy are emerging. Key stakeholders with strong track records in the region, such as the Caribbean Development Bank, the University of the West Indies, and the Caribbean Export Development Agency are also increasingly focusing on renewable energy.
Also the private sector is in a state of renewable energy flux. Critically, civil society organisations, such as Barbados Renewable Energy Association (BREA) in Barbados, are emerging too. In short the environment seems to be ripe for collaboration and technology transfer. Indeed in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank and the Barbados Government, important initial scoping studies are due to take place very soon in Barbados.
Funding facilities from the EU for the sector could be considerable – there is a wide array of EU level and EU Member States funding opportunities. A significant first step towards EU-Caribbean collaboration was taken when the UK hosted a Caribbean Marine Energy Seminar in Barbados in early 2014. This was a major success and we are exploring avenues to follow up. This should be the first of many EU-Caribbean exchanges on the subject – and indeed I think we can learn quite a lot from each other.
My hope is that this article may have whetted appetites and I urge interested readers to seek more information on the website of European Ocean Energy Association web site.
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