Towards Technology Assessment of Ocean Energy in a Developing Country Context
Licentiate thesis, 2011
New technologies for the extraction of valuable ocean resources are emerging: renewable ocean energy. Ocean energy technologies have so far primarily been developed in industrialized countries but will be deployed in both industrialized and developing countries. Ocean energy technologies promise benefits to people and the global environment on the one hand, and carry risks to marine ecosystems on the other. Simultaneously, the world’s oceans are under severe pressure from human activities, mainly due to a history of high technical development in combination with low regulation. Much could be gained by proactively examining both benefits and hazards at early stages of development. In this thesis, the Technology Assessment framework has been used to outline prerequisites for, benefits from, and adverse consequences of ocean energy technologies in developing countries. The case-study is the Western Indian Ocean (eastern Africa), a region experiencing increasing energy demand, both in fossil fuel-dependent small islands and in mainland countries with very low rural electrification levels and diesel-fuelled off-grid systems. This thesis combines technical, social, and environmental aspects.
Firstly, resource overviews were performed, indicating that potentially useful ocean energy sources exist in the region. Wave power resources are abundant in southern parts of the case-study region and conditions are good for ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) at several locations. Secondly, the socio-technical prerequisites for the use of ocean energy technologies were examined, considering both small-scale (off-grid) and large-scale (main-grid) applications. Numerous barriers to small-scale use were identified; these should be addressed both by adapting technology and by improving institutional quality. Thirdly, the benefits of different ocean energy technologies were discussed based on the regional context of local demand and existing power systems. In rural areas, electricity demand is low and introduced power sources for off-grid electrification need to be used for productive purposes and should be accompanied by other rural development services, if economic development is to be improved. Connected to main-grids, ocean energy can provide significant amounts of fuel-independent electricity, of particular value to the small island states. Finally, environmental consequences were examined, concluding that very little is yet known.
The outcomes of this thesis indicate that large-scale developments of wave power and OTEC can become important contributors to small island states in the Western Indian Ocean, while implementation of small-scale ocean energy in the region would encounter many socio-technical challenges. Due to its higher robustness, higher power output, and by-product of desalinated water, OTEC may provide the highest benefits of the two. In both cases, uncertainties regarding ecological risks remain important constraints to thorough assessment. Mitigation of ecological risks requires more research, emphasis on key ecological processes and cumulative effects in risk assessments, and efficient monitoring of impacts. At the resource-level, risks can be reduced by having a wide range of technical options to choose from (many different technologies for extracting the same resource), and by using technologies that can be further adapted, even after they have become widely used. From this perspective, wave power is the more promising ocean energy technology for the region. The thesis provides a first step towards a policy-supporting proactive Technology Assessment of ocean energy in a developing country context.
ocean thermal energy conversion