by Stephanie Nestor, Journalist, Energy magazine
In Australia’s transition to renewable energy, there has been a heavy focus on pushing markets to take up new technology. A newly announced project from National Energy Resources Australia (NERA) and the Australian Ocean Energy Group (AOEG) endeavours to instead promote the adoption of ocean energy through market demand.
NERA is supporting the AOEG to establish a world-first Integrated Ocean Energy Marketplace (IOEM) in Western Australia. The project aims to educate users about ocean energy technology and encourage its integration alongside other renewables.
The IOEM was announced in May 2022 at the AOEG’s Market Summit in Hobart and a feasibility study has been launched to look into developing the project.
The AOEG cluster, which was established with NERA’s support in 2018, is driving the IOEM, aiming to promote awareness, accessibility and affordability about ocean energy technology.
Bringing ocean energy to the market AOEG Cluster Manager, Stephanie Thornton, said currently Australia’s energy markets are largely unaware of the benefits of integrating ocean energy with other renewables, including offshore wind.
“We need to address this and raise the market’s awareness of the benefits of multi-purpose offshore energy parks that can optimise energy planning solutions as well as delivering low carbon solutions to marine based industries and communities,” Ms Thornton said.
“Through the IOEM we hope to demonstrate our vision. We believe seeing leads to understanding and understanding underpins adoption.
“This philosophy is at the heart of AOEG’s vision for the marketplace.” The project will have two stages – the first will be an online platform to help match end-users to energy solutions, and the second will be a pilot-scale offshore integrated grid system near Albany, Western Australia, to showcase these ocean energy solutions.
The first stage
The IOEM project’s first stage is a virtual marketplace and learning centre, which is intended to provide a forum for mutual understanding of the energy needs of endusers and potential ocean energy solutions.
This digital marketplace will draw data from existing wave and tidal energy projects through simulation to mix and match end-users to proposed ocean energy system integrations and potential providers.
NERA’s Ocean Energy Program Manager, Alex Ogg, said the first stage is an interim stepping stone to start the engagement between developing technology and market sectors for ocean energy.
“Our vision for the IOEM is a demand creation mechanism to bridge the gap and enable decision-making from end users by providing confidence in the products,” Mr Ogg said.
The second stage
The second stage will be the construction of a physical marketplace in Albany, which will use an integrated microgrid to showcase ocean energy alongside other renewables and demonstrate the economic and social value of integrated offshore energy solutions.
“While there are centres for testing a product development of ocean energy devices in Europe, the UK, Canada and the US, this will be a world first ‘public’ market facing resource for ocean energy,” Mr Ogg said.
“Technology agnostic, the IOEM will showcase how a microgrid based system can provide power to a typical blue economy end-user through an interactive platform.”
The microgrid will include a combination of wind and wave energy converters, onshore and offshore solar, storage and application technologies such as green hydrogen production, desalination capability and electric vehicle (EV) charging.
Alongside the microgrid, a database of ocean energy device capabilities will also allow potential end-users to understand the strengths of such a system, model their particular energy requirements, and find options which suit their needs.
End-users will work with an associated project development partner to design, cost, procure and develop stand alone or integrated energy solutions for commercial applications.
Why ocean energy?
With ocean energy being largely overlooked in Australia, market users are unaware of the capabilities of tidal and wave energy. Ocean energy technology captures clean and reliable energy from the wind passing over the surface of waves or the currents caused by tides.
When integrated with other renewables, ocean energy brings stability to the system by providing continuous power and reducing the need for storage or diesel back up. It can also help balance grids when other renewables, such as solar and wind, are not producing enough.
Solar and wind can be intermittent due to weather conditions, whereas wave and tidal energy are more predictable and are able to fill in the gaps in supply, which is what the IOEM will showcase through its working integrated microgrid.
Mr Ogg said AOEG is looking to the northern hemisphere for inspiration in this field.
“We love the concept of energy islands which are being developed, particularly in France, Denmark and the Netherlands. They are simply amazing and will play a major role in future decarbonisation,” Mr Ogg said.
“They’re literally an island, with a fully integrated energy system – ocean energy, solar and wind all connected to supply gigawatts of electricity. It’s something really exciting that’s emerging, and of course ocean energy is part of that.
“In Australia, the resources are as good or arguably better. We could combine renewable offshore energy precincts with food production supporting aquaculture, kelp production, and blue carbon sequestration farms as an example.”
From market awareness to market shift
AOEG has identified four main focus areas to promote the adoption of ocean energy:
1. Building awareness
2. Increasing accessibility
3. Supporting affordability
4. Establishing a project delivery system
The IOEM seeks to encourage the blue market sector in particular to adopt ocean energy through market-pull rather than technology-push. By making markets aware of ocean energy technology, the IOEM can encourage users to incorporate wave and tidal energy, while also promoting government funding in the area.
In Australia, there are currently some wave farm projects in development on a pilot-scale, but the technology is not being pushed as much as other renewables.
“There is low visibility and low confidence, with few or no commercial devices in operation in Australia and hence, no place to see ocean energy being produced,” Mr Ogg said.
“There are also negative perceptions on the back of some early failures and a general perception that ocean energy is an expensive option.
“Because of low demand and the above dynamics, governments and policy-makers have yet to prioritise the support of technical development, subsidies and blended finance options which would facilitate commercialisation and scale.”
The IOEM will give visibility to early pilots and commercial projects, using this to leverage acceptance from the market and end users. Then, via visitation at the physical marketplace or online engagement, it will hopefully prompt government support and adoption.
Where to from here?
To help turn its vision into reality, AOEG is currently seeking partners who can assist in making ocean energy a leader in the transition to sustainable and reliable energy.
NERA CEO, Miranda Taylor, said the work done by the AOEG cluster to drive this technology-led and integrated energy project demonstrates the strengths of the cluster model in accelerating the commercialisation of technology and renewable energy solutions.
“NERA helped establish the AOEG in 2018 because the evidence from around the world clearly demonstrates that clusters provide the business model to achieve market visibility, connect technology innovators with end-users and drive more rapid innovation and business development,” Ms Taylor said.
“The AOEG Cluster is facilitating the vital collaboration and innovation that is needed to ensure Australia achieves a net zero future and grows a strong offshore renewable sector, blue economy and diverse businesses.”
Mr Ogg said the real challenge in the sector is identifying the customer, as most are not aware of ocean energy technology or how they can incorporate it into their systems.
“We can see the opportunity, but as a tiny speck in the climate change discussion, acquiring the resources we need to do the job at the scale we need is currently elusive. When you don’t have leadership in government, business and communities sharing a similar vision, it feels like pushing a boulder up a hill,” Mr Ogg said.
By using market demand to encourage adoption, the IOEM will focus on building awareness around the capabilities and benefits of ocean energy, giving users a chance to incorporate the technology on their own terms.