About marine energy in the Mediterranean: prospects, challenges and next steps
When speaking about marine energy, many in Europe think about the Atlantic coast and North Sea. What's the potential in the Mediterranean for blue energy?
Source: ©FrankRamspott - istockphoto.com
Although the availability of marine energy resources in Europe is higher along the Atlantic and Nordic coasts, considerable resources are also available in the Mediterranean, offering new prospects for sustainable energy production in coastal areas and for economic development in southern Europe.
There is significant offshore wind resource in the Gulf of Lion, with an average annual power density of 1 050 W/m2, and in the Central Aegean Sea (890 W/m2). High offshore wind resources are also found in the areas east and west of the island of Crete, east of the Strait of Gibraltar, in the Western Ligurian Sea, in the Strait of Sicily and in the Southern Adriatic.
In terms of wave energy availability, the western coasts of Sardinia and Corsica, together with the Sicilian Channel and the Algerian and Tunisian coasts, are the most productive areas in the whole Mediterranean, with an average flow of energy per crest unit of 10 to 13 kW/m.
'As existing tidal turbines require a current velocity of at least 1.5-2 m/s to operate effectively, tidal energy can be harvested from the Strait of Gibraltar and Messina'
As existing tidal turbines require a current velocity of at least 1.5-2 m/s to operate effectively, tidal energy can be harvested from the Strait of Gibraltar and Messina. The latter is the most promising site in the Mediterranean for this type of renewable energy, with currents characterised by a speed exceeding 3 m/s. A recent evaluation indicates that annual energy production in the Strait of Messina could reach 125 GWh/year.
Do you see an advantage in developing MRE technologies for the Mediterranean?
The implementation of marine energy converters in the Mediterranean will stimulate significant technological innovation, due to low local energy levels which place stricter constraints on device efficiency and environmental compatibility. The milder climate also allows for concepts and prototypes to be tested in the natural environment at more affordable costs, reducing capital risk for new and innovative SMEs.
'The vulnerability of the Mediterranean environment also demands innovative solutions to support the energy independence and sustainability of particularly exposed habitats, ecosystems and social communities'
The vulnerability of the Mediterranean environment also demands innovative solutions to support the energy independence and sustainability of particularly exposed habitats, ecosystems and social communities, such as those located in small isolated islands. These local innovations will contribute new options to the global effort to adapt to and mitigate climate change.
Some technologies have already been deployed in the Mediterranean. How do you see further technology development taking place? Can it help to deliver SET Plan targets?
Mediterranean countries have made substantial progress in marine energy over the last 10 years, now boasting a high number of qualified developers from research centres, university spin-offs, SMEs and large enterprises.
Efforts have concentrated on wave and tidal energy converters, which are best suited for Mediterranean conditions, and for which various technical solutions have been developed. Many prototypes and pre-commercial devices are now completing their technological readiness level (TRL) path and enhancing their visibility on the international stage.
The main advantage offered by such technologies is that, by being specifically projected for the low-energy Mediterranean environment, they must address the issue of efficiency. But to export them to the global market, their survivability must be demonstrated in more severe sea conditions, as must the feasibility of upscaling.
Research institutions and industrial players in Mediterranean countries have already taken up these challenges. The region has the potential to strengthen the European industrial technological base, thereby creating economic growth and new jobs, and allowing Europe to maintain and consolidate its leading position in the MRE sector, thereby meeting SET Plan targets.
Two Interreg MED projects are focusing on MRE – Maestrale and Pelagos; what are the lessons learned from these?
In 2016, the EU Interreg MED Programme launched the horizontal project, InnoBlueGrowth, to create cohesive stakeholder communities in strategic investment areas. PELAGOS and MAESTRALE are two projects dedicated specifically to marine energy.
PELAGOS has established a permanent Mediterranean Cluster of stakeholders to sustain macro-regional strategies and connect key actors (technology and service providers, large enterprises, power distributors, financial operators, policymakers, NGOs and citizens), thus enhancing trans-national cooperation in the development of new marine renewable energy (MRE) devices.
PELAGOS will also implement pilot actions at regional, national and transnational level, to illustrate and provide services, tools and methods tailored to the needs of SMEs and to help highlight the obstacles and limitations facing the MRE sector. At the same time they will identify joint opportunities in key market sectors such as tourism and leisure, aquaculture and shipbuilding.
MAESTRALE aims to create the basis for an MRE deployment strategy in the Mediterranean, connecting partners from Italy, Spain, Croatia, Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, Slovenia, and Malta. Its main output is the creation of blue energy labs (BEL), including local enterprises, public authorities, knowledge institutions and citizens. In the coming months, these will outlive the project to support future blue energy policies and plan concrete strategies for growth. Pilot actions have already been implemented to raise awareness among local stakeholders, to increase social acceptance and to reduce the inherent uncertainties in impact assessments.
The first positive results of these initiatives are already tangible. Dozens of SMEs are starting to collaborate and exchange knowledge, and the number is expected to increase when the Mediterranean Cluster and blue energy labs are fully operational by the end of 2019.