Energy Innovation Brief
Issue 39 | April 2024

In Western Canada and around the world, the energy sector is rapidly transforming to one that promises to be cleaner, greener and more efficient. Each month, the Canada West Foundation’s Energy Innovation Brief brings you stories about technology innovations happening across the industry – in oil and gas, renewables, energy storage and transmission. If you have an idea for a story, email us at .

Oceanic Energy

It has been said that we know more about space than the ocean depths. A tad hyperbolic, but when it comes to energy, we’re still just splashing on the surface of what the ocean has to offer. That’s why this month’s Brief explores innovations that make use of the body of water that covers 71 per cent of Earth’s surface. Our four sections:

  • Capturing Currents – Investigating how tides, waves and currents are being used to convert the ocean’s kinetic energy to electricity.
  • Harnessing Gradients – Exploring innovations that produce energy from small differences in salinity and temperature.
  • Seaweed and Scales – Seeing how the ocean’s flora and fauna can contribute.
  • Above and Below – Identifying the ways that innovations are making use of the ocean’s boundaries to host wind turbines and sequester captured carbon.

Capturing Currents – Making use of the ocean’s kinetic energy

Most of the innovations that currently create electric power from the ocean come from the ebb and flow of the billion-plus cubic kilometers of water that form it. There are multiple ways to harness this energy, including making use of tides, waves, and currents.

Tidal power

Tidal power is the most developed of the ocean technologies, currently producing 98 per cent of ocean-based power. Tidal power uses the natural inflow and outflow of water to run turbines, which then generate electricity. Alternatively, inflowing water can be captured in a reservoir and then gradually released to allow for more consistent power flow.

Tidal projects are active all over the world. The largest operational tidal plant is in Korea, with France as the runner-up. Canada got into the game early with a generating station established in 1984 in Annapolis, Nova Scotia on the Bay of Fundy (which has famously high tides). The Annapolis Station closed in 2019 due to mechanical issues and its impact on fish populations. Until its closure, it was the third-largest tidal generation facility. But don’t think Canadian tidal power is finished! The federal government invested $9.4 million in four tidal energy projects in 2020. Other Canadian initiatives include the non-profit FORCE, which supports the testing of tidal stream energy in the Bay of Fundy, and a pilot project that was recently launched in B.C. to power remote communities with small scale turbines.

Despite having the least potential energy available for capture relative to other ocean technologies, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that tidal power still has the potential to generate 1,200 terawatt-hours (TWh) of power (for reference, the global power consumption in 2022 was just over 24,000 TWh).

Wave wattage

Waves contain an enormous amount of power. An average 4-foot, 10-second wave puts out more than 25 megawatts per mile of coast. IRENA estimates that wave power has the potential to generate nearly 30,000 TWh of power, which is more than all the energy consumed globally in 2022. There are many different systems that have been developed for capturing wave power, from buoy-based point-absorbers to oscillating wave-surge converters. Wave technology is still very much in the innovation stage, however, and only generates about 2.5 MW of power globally, nearly half of which is from a plant in Hawaii.

As you might expect, Canada has significant potential wave power along its coasts. Research from the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions estimates that 324 TWh of power (which is over half of Canada’s 2022 power consumption) could potentially be harvested off the coast of B.C. Canada has yet to capture this energy at a large scale, but it does have smaller projects, such as INGINE’s shallow-water technology that is being used by the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations on Vancouver Island to power their remote community.


We’ve covered waves and tides, but we still haven’t exhausted the ocean’s well of kinetic energy. The ocean has vast currents that circulate water around the globe. Ocean current technology is largely unexplored territory. However, forays are starting to be made. The South National Marine Renewable Energy Centre in Florida successfully tested the feasibility of ocean-current technology in the Gulf Stream in 2020, while Vortex Hydro Energy is seeking to commercialize a technology called VIVACE (Vortex Induced Vibrations for Aquatic Clean Energy) developed by a University of Michigan scientist.

Harnessing Gradients – Capturing energy from differences in salinity and temperature

Kinetic energy is not the only source of power that the big blue provides. Variations in temperature and salinity can also be harnessed.

Ocean thermal

Ocean water gets significantly colder as you get deeper, with temperatures varying as much as 50 degrees Celsius over vertical distances as little as 90 meters. Exploiting temperature differences to create electrical power is nothing new (hello, heat pumps), so it shouldn’t be surprising that the first power plant to produce electricity from ocean temperature differences was built almost 100 years ago. However, there are no commercial facilities currently in existence. The first large-scale facility is slated to begin construction in 2025. The main problem with the concept is that, although the energy resource is virtually unlimited, the efficiency of extraction is low.

Salinity gradients

Salinity gradients occur where fresh water and oceans meet. Salt naturally seeks to diffuse itself evenly in water and this can also be harnessed to generate power. The two main variants of salinity power both entail interposing membranes between the fresh water and the salt water, followed by the application of osmosis or electrodialysis technologies. There has been minimal implementation of commercial-scale salinity-gradient power facilities to date. There are currently two commercial facilities in the world: one in the Netherlands that opened in 2014 and which produces 50 kW per hour, and another in Denmark that started operations in 2023 and produces about 100 kW. However, IRENA estimates that there are 1,650 TWh of potential power that could be generated by the technology.

Seaweed and Scales – Power from the ocean’s flora and fauna

Not only can we generate power from the ocean’s waters, but we can also make use of the organisms within it. Here are two examples.

Seaweed farms

One of the challenges with land-based biofuels is that they compete with food crops and require a great deal of land, fertilizer and water. Seaweed may be the solution.

ARPA-E, a U.S. Department of Energy agency, has launched the MARINER program, which includes a project to cultivate seaweed on mobile farms attached to submarine drones. The drones move the seaweed around so that the kelp can engage in photosynthesis during the day, and then spend the night in the nutrient-rich ocean depths.

Fish scales

Researchers in India have used fish scales as a component in making triboelectric nanogenerators (TENG), which is a technology that produces power through the motion of the human body. The scales were collected from local fish markets, allowing the creation of value from a waste product (call back to January’s EIB!). The devices made with this technology produce up to 180v, or enough energy to power 90 LED bulbs.

Above and Below – Making use of the ocean’s boundaries

We’ve explored how to generate power from ocean tides, currents, temperature variants, flora and fauna, but we still haven’t exhausted its energy opportunities. To round out this EIB, we’ll examine some of the innovations taking place at the ocean’s peripheries.

Floating windfarms

Offshore wind is an established industry, producing an estimated 64.3 GW globally in 2022 (or nearly 125 times more energy than what the technologies described above currently produce…combined!). Canada is currently engaged in two regional assessments for potential offshore wind development in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, so it is possible that large-scale offshore wind production may be coming to our east coast in the near future.

Most offshore wind turbines are mounted on fixed platforms. However, this limits the depth at which they can be installed and has a relatively high ecological impact. To address these factors, new floating technologies are being developed that will enable wind turbines to bob on the ocean’s surface. This technology is being taken up by emerging offshore markets such as Vietnam and the Philippines. The Global Wind Energy Council estimates that the floating offshore wind market will produce 16.5 GW by 2030.

Carbon capture

Carbon capture and sequestration requires that the CO2 be stored someplace that has very particular geological characteristics. Sites on land have been relatively well mapped out. But some of the right geology also exists under the sea.

Undersea sequestration has been happening at enormous scale in the North Sea as part of the Northern Lights project off the coast of Norway. Within Canada, projects are moving ahead on both the West and East coasts. Ocean Networks Canada, based at the University of Victoria, has determined that the porous, permeable basalt lying beneath the Cascadia Basin, 200 km off the west coast of Vancouver Island, is a suitable location for carbon storage.  In the east, the St. Lawrence Seaway is being evaluated as a location.


It will likely still be decades before the technologies we’ve reviewed in this EIB comes into their own. However, as they improve, they may become an essential component of the global energy mix. The ocean has the potential to meet the world’s energy needs many times over and it will be exciting to see how our ability to harness this potential evolves going into the future.

The Energy Innovation Brief is compiled by Ryan Workman and Marla Orenstein. If you like what you see, subscribe to our mailing list and share with a friend. If you have any interesting stories for future editions, please send them to .