Wave power potential, 2008


Observations for policy

Seas in Europe play a crucial role in the response to climate change as they offer significant scope for renewable energy development. It is widely accepted that seas are an important source of renewable energy as much as wind, wave and tidal energy.

Atlantic coastline offers a great potential for marine renewable energy development and, surprisingly, such potential is hardly exploited so far. Besides, a better use of marine renewable energies also implies the need for linking marine networks with terrestrial systems. This includes cables connecting offshore sources of electricity supply to  the subsurface of terrestrial systems. Such network is currently under discussion.

Policy context

New and more intensive development pressures result from a growing realisation of the opportunities offered by maritime resources. The sea is increasingly seen as an important place for renewable energy opportunities which are needed to respond to climate change issues and the extensive use of fossil fuel. Traditional fossil fuel resources, notably in the North Sea, are declining, although new opportunities are being discussed at EU level.

Seas hold major potential for the production of renewable energy by means of wind, wave, and tidal power. This holds true for Europe’s Atlantic coast. However, the distribution of the potential is far from being evenly spread throughout European waters, and the technology needed to tap these different reserves is at varying stages of maturity. Nonetheless, the development of marine renewable energies, especially wind power is a major priority of Europe’s energy policy.

Map interpretation

The map shows the likely energy potential of wave, wind and tidal power. Western coastal areas, which are fully exposed to the Atlantic ocean, have the greatest capacity to develop wave power. This is followed by open areas in the North Sea and Mediterranean. However, the map also knows clearly that enclosed sea areas have relatively little wave power potential.

In addition to wave power, wind and tidal power are important marine renewable energies. The possibility of combining different marine renewable technologies may maximise the use of infrastructure and services and arguably encourage the growth of industrial clusters.

While the exploitation of marine renewable energies can make an important contribution to Europe’s response to climate change, large scale renewable energy developments might have unintended consequences for both local and regional seas environment.

Concepts and methods

Wave power is the conversion of the motion of waves into electricity. This sort of renewable energy is currently not widely used as its main competitor is offshore wind power.