Melting Arctic ice caps – a defining symbol of the climate crisis – could deliver an unexpected benefit for green power generation by making new swathes of ocean suitable for harnessing wave energy, say researchers.
The Arctic is warming nearly four times faster than the rest of the planet and sea ice in the region is disappearing at a rate of almost 13% per decade. Entirely ice-free summers are now predicted to be inevitable.
But as global leaders gather at COP28 in Dubai to try and agree on how to slow or even reverse this process, scientists in Norway and the Netherlands may have discovered a surprising and somewhat ironic benefit of the dwindling sea ice.
The reduction or even vanishing of sea ice creates “longer or unlimited fetch,” the distance travelled by wind or waves across open water, said the researchers in a paper published in the journal Renewable Energy.
In essence, the researchers found that regions suitable for wave energy have “increased and are getting more accessible year-round.”
“Ocean renewable energy resources such as offshore wind, tides, and waves will play a vital role in carbon-free electricity production worldwide,” said the researchers.
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And the ocean has an “enormous amount of renewable energy that is nearly unexploited.”
The European Commission has “identified the potential” of this resource, they said, with targets for 300GW of offshore wind and 40GW of ocean power by 2050.
To assess the energy potential of the Arctic Ocean, an area with “strong wave-ice interactions and significant changes in sea ice concentration during the last decades,” the researchers carried out a study of its wave height and “wave energy flux.”
Using data that also covers a large part of the North Atlantic, the researchers assessed the wave conditions since 1990 to “unveil the true potential” of wave energy in the region and identify “wave energy-rich areas” for future marine renewable deployment.
The analysis found that Arctic’s “most energetic wave conditions” are in the Greenland Sea and the Barents Sea – above Norway and Russia – due to their direct opening to the open sea waves from the North Atlantic.
The findings of increased wave power mirror that of another recent study published in Nature by US scientists, which found that wave energy around the world has increased 0.27% per year, on average, since the 1980s. The North Atlantic has had the highest increase in wave energy.
One of the researchers, Konstantinos Christakos, who works in the Department of Marine Technology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, told Recharge that the data shows that the Greenland Barents seas are among those that “should anticipate a persistent and increased resource” for wave energy annually.
This will “encourage the development of wave energy power plants in these Arctic regions,” he added.
Norway, Russia and the Danish territory of Greenland stand to benefit most from this increase in wave energy potential in the Arctic, said Christakos.