By: Mary Ann Joy Quirapas and Srikanth Narasimalu
As ocean space has become industrialised, there is a need for a more holistic approach in balancing the benefits and consequences of using ocean or marine resources to satisfy human and economic needs. On the one hand, marine resources could provide food, water and energy. On the other hand, the resources could provide a stable job market. Utilising such resources entails the responsibility of ensuring that marine life, its environment and biodiversity are being protected. Southeast Asia region is one example with a complex marine space and diverse utilisation of resources.
Ocean renewable energy (RE) sits in a very interesting aspect for marine governance wherein “ocean industrialisation intersected with the environmental imperative to decarbonise the energy system” (Wright 2016). On the one hand, governments are looking for alternative sources of clean and renewable energy to lessen their dependence on oil and gas, and to mitigate climate change issues related to fossil fuels. The ocean energy industry itself seems to be a promising source of the job market which both developed and developing countries are eager to take chances for. On the other hand, its technology and deployment strategies tend to be more costly compared to other RE. There are also other socio-political issues to be addressed to fully utilise ocean renewables, e.g. rights and ownership, resource management, environmental impacts and ocean space.
Wright defines rights and ownership as the “basis occupation of marine space and the use of marine resources.” This aspect talks about the private or public use of the marine or ocean space. Compared to land, ocean or marine space ownership tends to be more complex as it depends on what it is used for and not by designated geographical area. For example, the local community nearest or adjacent to offshore waters usually has the rights to utilise its marine resources like fishing. Project developers of ocean energy have limited rights to use a certain space of the waters for the deployment of turbine or resource assessment. Once they try to exercise exclusive rights over the marine space, it will affect and may conflict with other public activities like “fishing and navigation, other private rights in the marine environment and the perceived rights of communities and existing marine users” (Wright, 2016).
Resource management on the other hand addresses the issue of permit procedure which ideally needs to be economically efficient shows equity and ensures financial return. The rules and regulations should be practical and ‘user-friendly’ for all stakeholders. Burdensome bureaucratic procedures have always been considered to be among the non-economic barriers to RE adoption in Southeast Asia. For example, the International Energy Association (IEA) reported that the region still faces “infrastructure and grid-related problems” and “regulatory and administrative hurdles”. Furthermore, legal security, negative policy changes affecting RE, main financial support and total revenues are some of the risks perceived by potential investors in the region (Olz and Beerepoot 2010)
Environmental impact of ocean energy technologies is among the trickiest part of marine governance. Although ocean technologies are meant to be cleaner sources of energy, their impact on the marine environment when deployed remains to be a potential source of disruption to marine life, its habitat and activities. Henkel, Conway, & Boehlert (2013) argue that “any activities conducted by humans in the ocean will have an effect.” Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is a well-developed concept in environmental law and is now being used by the decision-makers to assess proposals to deploy, for example, marine turbine underwater.
Finally, the ocean is already congested with other sectors, so ocean energy developers need not only to compete for resources but also for the use of ocean space. Policymakers and other stakeholders need to decide which marine activities need to be prioritised. Marine spatial planning (MSP) has increasingly been used to model such a prioritisation framework. As a new player, ocean energy developers need to be among the active drivers to secure the ocean resource and space they need for deployment while taking other marine sectors into account.
Southeast Asia has yet to fully develop its capabilities in harnessing energy from the ocean but has to be careful in preserving the serenity of the ocean environment. Presently, in an effort to provide alternative clean energy in the region’s tropical islands, the Energy Research Institute @ Nanyang Technological University (Singapore) has been performing a detailed environmental impact assessment on ocean energy systems deployment. Such current efforts are being shared through the Southeast Asian Collaboration for Ocean Renewable Energy (SEAcORE), so decision-makers and stakeholders can also learn to implement effective marine governance in order to fully harness ocean energy from the ocean while minimising the potential negative impact on the environment.
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog entry are solely from the authors and do not represent the authors’ institution.
About the Authors:
Both authors are from the Wind and Marine Renewables Team of the Energy Research Institute @ Nanyang Technological University ([email protected]). Ms Mary Ann Joy Quirapas ([email protected]), Research Associate, handles the ocean RE policy studies of the team and coordinates the regional ocean renewable network, Southeast Asian Collaboration for Ocean Renewable Energy (SEAcORE, https://blogs.ntu.edu.sg/seacore/). Dr Srikanth Narasimalu ([email protected]) is a Senior Scientist and the Programme Director of the Wind and Marine Renewables Team.