What Role for Ocean-Based Renewable Energy and Deep-Seabed Minerals in a Sustainable Future

What Role for Ocean-Based Renewable Energy and Deep-Seabed Minerals in a Sustainable Future examines how and to what extent marine renewable energy can contribute to the climate agenda and achieving SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy). It also identifies new solutions and their potential impact.

The 11th blue paper of the High Level Panel for Sustainable Ocean Economy recognizes that current decarbonisation efforts are not sufficient to reach the goals of the Paris agreement. Ocean-based renewable energy will play a key role in the transition to a more sustainable global energy system. However, new technologies must be implemented in a sustainable way.

Ocean-based renewables provides many benefits

Ocean renewables are needed to decarbonise our energy system, and the development must be accelerated in order to phase out fossil fuels in timely manner. Renewable energy drawn from the oceans have many advantages compared to other sources of energy, such as very low CO2-emissions, no waste generation and high predictability. It also creates vast employment opportunities. Offshore wind provides more jobs than fossil fuel electricity, and tidal stream and wave energy could deliver similar employment opportunities when being scaled up.

In order to accelerate the development of ocean renewables and make them cost-competitive, the report calls for stronger research, development and demonstration programmes. In addition, marine spatial planning and sustainable ocean economy plans with taxation schemes and regulations could help stimulate investments.

More research is needed on deep-seabed mining

While offshore wind has reached cost parity with fossil energy sources, most other ocean-based renewable energy technologies are still at an early stage of development with little deployment. As a result, there are few available studies on what materials will be needed to scale up the use of these technologies. If the metal requirements are similar to those of modern wind turbines, which according to the report is likely, there will be a rapid increase in the demand for metals like ithium, cobalt, copper, silver, zinc, nickel and manganese, and rare earth elements (REEs).

Mining of the deep seabed has not taken place yet, but there is a rising interest in deep-sea mining. It would bring economic benefits and create new job and training opportunities, but it is also expected to create environmental and social impacts. The report underlines that it is difficult to anticipate how best to mitigate the potential impacts of deep-seabed mining as there have been so few studies investigating mining impacts. Therefore, deep-seabed mining must be approached in a precautionary and adaptive manner, so as to integrate new knowledge and avoid and minimise harm to habitats, communities and functioning. This will require a strong regulatory framework and adaptive management. The report also suggests to establish an international research agenda and timeline in order to fill identified gaps in knowledge. In addition, circular economy is key to reducing metal demand, and it is important to create incentives and remove barriers to implement a circular economy. A less mineral-intensive renewable energy system is also needed.

By Anna Lygre Solvang