The Blue Economy and Climate Change Mitigation

By Emily Vidovich. Emily has a background in environmental journalism and sustainability and is a member of the George Washington University Class of 2019.

Realizing a sustainable blue economy will enable humanity to address the most pressing issues of this century—food security, environmental conservation, and climate change. When it comes to counteracting climate change, the next three decades are paramount. Now is the time to accelerate the blue economy’s climate change solutions, namely, ocean-based renewable energy and ocean-based carbon capture. 

Ocean-based renewable energy sources include offshore wind and solar as well as wave and tidal energy. In United States waters, offshore wind projects—both operational and those still in the planning phase—have reached 40 gigawatts of annual production capacity. The Department of Energy plans to have 30 gigawatts operational by 2030 and at least 110 gigawatts by 2050. With one gigawatt of power able to power between 225,000 and 300,000 U.S. homes, this means that approximately 14% of the nation’s households will be powered by offshore wind by 2030.

Offshore solar has the potential to be an even more potent energy source. Recently, the floating solar industry has been gaining traction because of its potential to create large amounts of renewable energy in relatively small areas. In the Chinese province of Shandong alone, there are plans to have 11 gigawatts of floating offshore solar by 2025. And a 2023 report found that, in a scenario where this technology is fully harnessed in areas with suitable conditions, floating offshore solar could provide all of the energy needs of 11 billion humans—more people than currently exist.

While lesser known than wind and solar, the technology for wave and tidal energy already exists–a 2021 report on marine energy opportunities from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory concluded that wave power has the potential to meet 30 percent of the country’s electricity demand. California’s vast coastline provides immense potential for ocean-based renewable energy. 

AltaSea has taken a leadership position on educating California legislators to accelerate ocean-based renewable energy through the Blue Economy Caucus. The caucus’ first legislative initiative, sponsored by AltaSea and authored by Senator Steve Padilla, would require the California Energy Commission to study the potential for wave and tidal energy in California, then report on how the state can facilitate industry growth. This measure was approved by the California legislature earlier this year, and is on its way to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

Carbon capture refers to technology that can filter emitted carbon out of the atmosphere and store it underground, where it cannot warm the planet. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has identified several climate action pathways, several of which would limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. They found that, no matter which plan of action is taken, carbon capture is necessary in order to avoid catastrophic global warming.

There are two components to carbon capture—carbon capture refers to grabbing emissions as they come out of a high-emitting source such as a power plant, while carbon removal sucks carbon out of the air without targeting a particular emissions source. 

Since 2022, AltaSea has partnered with the Institute for Carbon Management (ICM) at the University of California Los Angeles Samueli School of Engineering to demonstrate carbon removal technologies at the AltaSea campus. ICM’s technology focuses on marine-based carbon removal—removing excess carbon dioxide (CO2) from the ocean instead of from the air. The process involves using renewable energy to trap carbon dioxide by transforming it into solid carbonates.

Removing excess CO2 from the ocean has the significant co-benefit of counteracting ocean acidification, the phenomenon that describes the decrease of the ocean’s pH as seawater absorbs the CO2 emitted from burning fossil fuels. By addressing excess CO2 in the ocean, ICM’s technology could both address climate change and restore balance to ocean ecosystems.

It is clear that the oceans hold the key to stopping climate change, the only remaining question is whether humanity will embrace and accelerate the sustainable blue economy in time to prevent the worst consequences of climate change.

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