A Blue Moon: Ocean Energy and a Just Transition

By Student Delegate Andrea Salazar

Our Moon and Ocean are a major source of energy. Both tidal energy and wave energy are forms of ocean renewable energy (ORE). For example, countries like Australia have proposed that ORE’s are a vital part of their blue economy. The promise of developing OREs is bolstered by the fact that tidal and wave energy are less variable than wind and solar—thus more reliable (Herner et al., 2018). In a 2011 report, the IPCC described ocean energy as an undeveloped energy source. The IPCC also found that, theoretically, the ocean could provide more than enough energy than the world’s population needs (IPCC, page 501). Here, we examine why the ocean moves and the location of ORE hotspots. Last, we discuss frameworks for using ORE responsibly–because with great power comes responsibility.

Blue Moon 1Tidal Energy

Tidal energy derives from the moon’s gravitational pull on the Earth which creates a tidal force. As the Earth rotates, tidal force causes the Earth’s ocean water to bulge out on the side closest to the Moon. The parts of the Earth where water is bulging, experiences “high tide.” The sun and weather patterns can also affect ocean tides, but the Moon is most consistent. The Moon moves our oceans twice every day. (NOAA) The kinetic energy from this motion can generate electricity. The following figure quantifies tidal movement all over the globe. (IPCC) The blues show locations where little energy can be harnessed from tides while red show just the opposite.

Blue Moon 2Wave Energy

Depending on how fast the wind is blowing and for how long, the wind’s contact with the Earth’s ocean creates waves. Waves can travel long distances and grow because they are “very efficient at transferring energy” (IPCC, page 203). This map, also from the IPCC, shows the power in the ocean’s waves.

Transitions in a Blue Moon

Various forms of ocean renewable energy must be considered in through the lens of arriving at a future that is good for people and the planet. Standing for “Justice” “Universal” “Space” and “Time”—the J.U.S.T. Transition frames considerations in the process of implementing new energy systems that do not replicate social harm. The just transitions stem from labor movements and a key consideration is to understand and reduce negative impacts on the working class (UNFCCC). Williams and Doyon describe J.U.S.T factors in their research article as follows:

  • Justice refers to distributional (equality in prosperity and burden), procedural (accessible decision-making), and restorative justice (righting wrongs and conciliation);
  • Universal takes two forms: Recognition and Cosmopolitan;
  • Space calls for a location-specific analysis; and
  • Time.

In the U.S., the Climate Justice Alliance defines the just transition, more holistically, as a process for leaving behind an extractive economy towards a Regenerative Economy. Any future that intends to harness wave and tidal energy will require a step-by-step analysis as related to the factors described above.

Works Referenced:

  1. https://scijinks.gov/tides/
  2. https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/03/SRREN_Full_Report-1.pdf
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960148118305573#fig3
  4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330096809_Justice_in_energy_transitions/link/5c44d6c9299bf12be3d78fe1/download
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0016718517303287
  6. https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/Just%20transition.pdf
  7. https://climatejusticealliance.org/just-transition/#:~:text=Just%20Transition%20is%20a%20vision,cycles%20holistically%20and%20waste%2Dfree.

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