Oceans offer a massive source of energy which can be used to produce electricity, by harnessing waves, tides, currents and ocean temperature differentials.
Australia has the third largest exclusive economic zone with over 80% classified as offshore, beyond two nautical miles from the coast and subject to oceanic waves, tidal currents and wind. It has the potential to produce huge amounts of electricity as ocean energy conversion technologies mature.
Over the last decade, Australian ocean energy technology developers have advanced their prototypes towards the early commercial development phase.
IEC Technical Committee 114 develops international standards for marine energy, covering wave, tidal and other water current converters. IEC TC 114 recently announced that Australia has become a full member.
“This is a significant development for TC 114 and one that I am very pleased to see. Australia is a key member of the marine energy industry and it is very exciting to have their expertise on our TC”, said Jonathan Colby, who chairs the committee.
There are a few reasons. Internationally developed marine energy standards underpin each stage of development of marine energy devices. It is critical for technologies to incorporate these standards in their engineering designs because they provide high-quality, reproducible operational results that lead to cost reductions and improve the quality of devices. They will also reduce risks and instil confidence for all industry stakeholders.
Our sector needs to be a part of the global marine energy community. Australia wants to have a seat at the table, have its voice heard and contribute towards standards development.
Three years ago, the Australian government supported renewal of its membership into the Ocean Energy Systems Technology Collaboration Programme (OES) established by the International Energy Agency, for the development of ocean wave and tidal current energy.
Membership in TC 114 allows us to strengthen the role we play in OES. It is synergistic. The OES works on the technical side of ocean energy development, but they have a broader perspective than just devices and guidelines, they are looking industry wide. This is complementary enabling Australia to work on the technical side of standards which fits very well into the broader industry development.
In the future, standards will become critically important for us as we move from being technology centric to being market centric. What we want to do is be able to demonstrate how ocean energy devices integrate to energy systems. Standards will be vital to provide consistency among how devices are installed and connected and how we deliver electricity for the end user.
Australia is unique in its diversity of ocean environments for wave and tidal devices, unlike other parts of the world. We have tropical, sub-tropical and temperate waters that are all capable of supporting a variety of market opportunities for offshore energy. In the Great Southern region of Australia, we have ocean environments similar to the North Sea.
The challenge will be to develop ocean energy systems. As these are designed, evolve and are built for the markets, we will contribute our experience of this diversity to standards, that may not be available in other places.
Ocean energy devices are unique and designed for different parts of the environment. They might be on the seafloor or surface, in shallow or deep waters with big or small waves. The driver which impacts how a device is designed is who the end user will be and whether capacity will be for producing electricity.
The challenge and reason standards become imperative is because of the diversity of the devices. There needs to be some standardization in the infrastructure to support them, such as cabling or grid and electricity connections to get the energy back onshore. Different standards are being developed that are applicable to the devices being developed and these must be applied in the devices, as they mature.
Permit consensus is a challenging process. Regulators are not necessarily familiar with our industry and they work from a precautionary principal. If a company or project can show it is using global and universally adopted standards, this will make a big difference. It will be a part of reducing risk and concerns and instilling confidence in the regulators to issue consent, which is needed to get the device in the water.
This also applies to environmental protection factors. Standards help instil confidence in end users, regulators and even communities.
This reinforces that standards become a critical component of our ability to generate market demand and deliver projects with consistency and the ability to tap into the knowledge base that exists globally. I expect Australia will be a contributor of standards because of its unique environments and also benefit extensively from the work that is being done.
Find out more about IEC TC 114.