Europe’s ocean energy installations surge back to pre-Covid levels, with major increase for tidal

An overhead view of a tidal turbine from Orbital Marine Power on September 6, 2021.
William Edwards | AFP | Getty Images

European installations of tidal and wave energy capacity jumped in 2021, as the ocean energy sector saw deployments revert to pre-pandemic levels and a substantial increase in investment.

In figures released Thursday, Ocean Energy Europe said 2.2 megawatts of tidal stream capacity was installed in Europe last year, compared to just 260 kilowatts in 2020. For wave energy, 681 kW was installed, which OEE said was a threefold increase.

Globally, 1.38 MW of wave energy came online in 2021, while 3.12 MW of tidal stream capacity was installed. Capacity refers to the maximum amount of electricity installations can produce, not what they’re necessarily generating.

Overall, 11.5 MW of tidal stream installations are now in European waters, with the figure for wave energy coming in at 1.4 MW. Investment in the ocean energy sector hit 70 million euros ($76.8 million) last year. OEE, a Brussels-based trade association, said this represented a 50% increase compared to 2020.

“Developing new decarbonised, indigenous and affordable energy sources is not a luxury – it is a necessity,” Remi Gruet, the Ocean Energy Europe CEO, said in a statement.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, has laid out targets for the capacity of ocean energy technologies such as wave and tidal to reach 100 MW in the EU by 2025 and roughly 1 gigawatt by 2030. Given the current level of installations, achieving this goal represents a big challenge.

“The EU must kick-start its offshore renewables strategy now, and empower ocean energy to deliver energy independence and decarbonisation as part of a diverse set of renewables,” OEE’s Gruet said.

“The figures from 2021 reflect a strong, adaptable sector, and show that ocean energy is proving itself, both technologically and as an investment.”

While there is excitement about the potential of marine energy, the footprint of tidal stream and wave projects remains very small compared to other renewables. In 2021 alone, Europe installed 17.4 gigawatts of wind power capacity, according to figures from industry body WindEurope.

Despite its small footprint, recent years have seen a number of developments within the ocean energy industry. Last July, a tidal turbine weighing 680 metric tons started grid-connected power generation at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, an archipelago located north of mainland Scotland.

A few months later, in Oct. 2021, plans for a £1.7 billion (around $2.23 billion) project in the U.K. incorporating technologies including underwater turbines were announced.

Just this week, it was announced that an independent commission would revisit the possibility of using the Severn Estuary, a large body of water between England and Wales, to harness tidal energy.