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TAKE 5: The ON&T Interview with Marine Renewables Canada

TAKE 5: The ON&T Interview with Marine Renewables Canada

Canada’s ocean sector boasts investment, innovation, and ambition. The shared goal among public and private sectors is to grow the national ocean economy to $220 billion by 2035. Collaboration will be key to realizing such a target but so will the steady development and integration of marine renewable energy to the mix. This month ON&T sat down with Elisa Obermann, Executive Director of Marine Renewables Canada (MRC), the national association for offshore wind, tidal, wave and river current energy, to better understand the scale of opportunity and MRC’s role in advancing technology.

1. What does Canada’s renewable energy landscape currently look like?

Canada is home to some of the world’s most abundant marine renewable energy resources. Atlantic offshore wind speeds match those found in the North Sea, while seabed conditions favor both fixed and floating installations. Although Canada is one of the newer entrants to the global offshore wind market, federal and provincial governments have been busy laying the foundation for future offshore wind development on both coasts. The establishment of a legislative framework is underway, and the expectation is that the first call for offshore wind leasing will occur in 2025.

Beyond wind, Canada is also investing in developing tidal, wave, and river current energy. Tidal alone represents an estimated capacity of 40,000 megawatts; add wave and river to the equation, and the potential climbs to 340 gigawatts—enough energy to power every home in Canada five times over.

There are several tidal projects underway on both the east and west coasts, but much of the current focus is concentrated in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, which is also home to the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE). The team at FORCE have already overseen the deployment of several devices, with more in the pipeline over the coming years.

1 Monopiles at marshalling yard Argentia

US offshore wind monopiles delivered at Port of Argentia, Newfoundland & Labrador. (Credit: MRC)

On the east coast, British Columbia has been the frontrunner for wave energy development, with much of the work being spearheaded by the University of Victoria and its West Coast Wave Initiative (WCWI)—a team of academics and cross-sector engineers seeking ways to harvest wave energy resources found off Vancouver Island.

Canada is also leading the way in exploring river current energy potential, with several projects already in various stages of planning, development, and operation across the country, in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, and Quebec.

In short, leveraging marine energy resources to bring about an economically sustainable energy transition is a national undertaking.

2. What is Marine Renewables Canada’s role in the energy transition?

Marine renewable energy technologies can generate electricity and fuels to power marine transportation, aquaculture, and offshore oil and gas. The sector is uniquely positioned to help build the blue economy and combat climate change.

Ultimately, Marine Renewables Canada’s role is to ensure that all stakeholders, from government officials to the broader public, are aware of the vast potential that marine renewable energy sources present in terms of achieving clean energy and netzero goals.

3. What regional benefits does Canada bring to the renewables industry?

Clearly the natural untapped resources available represent a healthy and sustainable market for electricity production, but Canada is also an ideal testbed for the demonstration and refinement of clean, scalable technologies for the global market. Given the international shift towards a carbon neutral future, Canada has several unique characteristics that are particularly advantageous.

First, Canada has 270 remote communities. Over 60 percent of these are Indigenous and over 200 of the communities have their own fossil fuel plants, using diesel or fuel oil. While many of these communities have access to different renewable energy resources, marine renewable energy may present the more optimal technology in some cases where wind and solar are not as plentiful or reliable. Over 100+ remote communities in Canada have access to marine renewable energy or waterpower resources, so there is enormous potential to expand a network of remote community marine renewable energy projects capable of establishing scalable and innovative systems and technologies. Innovation thrives in these communities and their individual needs spur creativity.

2 ORPC river device winter

RivGen (river current) device at the Canadian Hydrokinetic Turbine Test Centre. (Credit: MRC)

Second, Canada is increasingly focused on the large-scale production of green hydrogen and ammonia. The east coast, with its established ports and relative proximity to Europe, could play an instrumental role in this market as it develops.

The regional success of Canadian suppliers working in the offshore oil and gas, defense, and other ocean industries means that the supply chain is primed to service both the domestic and international marine renewable energy sector. Indeed, Canada has already proven instrumental to the burgeoning US offshore wind plans. To date, several ports in Atlantic Canada have been responsible for receiving turbine components and monopiles for projects in US waters because of the US Jones Act limitations, which require that any transport of goods between US ports be done on US built, crewed, and flagged ships.

4. More specifically, how are you supporting the advancement of ocean-based technologies?

Marine Renewables Canada has many ocean technology companies in its membership. Our focus with these companies is to connect them with business opportunities in Canada and overseas by providing market intelligence, brokering new relationships, and keeping them up to date on marine renewable energy projects that they could engage in.

3 FORCE substation

Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) substation at Bay of Fundy Site. (Credit: MRC)

We also work closely with our members to identify knowledge gaps where technology and innovation could prove pivotal. Questions surrounding the potential marine environmental impacts of marine renewable energy infrastructure development persist, and ocean technologies help provide data and information to validate or abate any such concerns

5. How do you see your organization evolving in the foreseeable future?

Marine Renewables Canada has grown significantly in recent years, and much of that demand is associated with the surging interest in offshore wind in Canada. The emphasis on offshore wind in Canada can only benefit the marine renewable energy sector as a whole—suppliers, ocean tech companies, and researchers will gain invaluable experience, expertise that can be applied to accelerate the commercialization of tidal, wave, and river current projects. Under this spirit of collaboration, we have seen our membership grow and strengthen.

Also, as we start to see members explore new energy sources, such as green hydrogen and ammonia production, I see our role as partially educational, helping stakeholders and others understand how marine renewable energy interfaces with these emerging opportunities. As technologies advance and help industry explore a broader range of marine environments, we will likely see the training and development of ocean professionals evolve. Ensuring that the human inputs (workforce) and technical resources (ocean technologies) progress in sync hinges on clear lines of communication and collaboration, and this will remain a major part of Marine Renewables Canada's remit.

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This story was originally featured in ON&T Magazine’s May 2024 issue. Click here to read more.


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