The ocean is an enormous source of energy. It is estimated that 0.1% of the energy in ocean waves could be capable of supplying the entire world's energy requirements five times over. Currently, a number of technologies aimed at harnessing this potential have been investigated and are at different stages of development including tidal and marine energy, wave energy, difference of temperature and salinity energy. A description of these technologies can be found at the website of European Ocean Energy Association (EU-OEA).
Conversion of tidal energy into electricity has been widely investigated and can be compared to the technology used in hydroelectric power plants. In fact, electricity is generated by water flowing into and out of gates and turbines installed along a dam or barrage built across a tidal bay or estuary. More recently, technologies for exploiting wave and currents energy have been developed and tested on small-scale and, for a limited number of cases, on a large scale.
On the other hand, technologies related with the difference of temperature and of salinity are at an early stage of development. With Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC), the difference of temperature between cold, deep seawaters and warm, shallow waters creates a thermodynamic cycle, which can be used for producing electricity. In the case of salinity gradients, the difference in salinity between seawater and fresh water creates a pressure difference which can be exploited to extract energy.
Due to the urgent demand for clean renewable energy and given the enormous potential of this source, the European Commission has supported ocean energy research and development for many years through funding research projects and promoting cooperation between stakeholders.
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