Davos Agenda

The ocean plays a key role in the energy transition – so does data

Today, our ability to measure and monitor the ocean has increased, and we are collecting more ocean data than ever.

Today, our ability to measure and monitor the ocean has increased, and we are collecting more ocean data than ever. Image: HUB Ocean

Kimberly Mathisen
Adviser, Aker
Kjell Inge Røkke
Special Emissary for Industrial Ocean Data, UN Ocean Decade
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • The ocean is at the heart of our fight against climate change.
  • The ocean offers us a wide variety of opportunities for alternative energy sources, this remains mostly untapped.
  • Global collaboration and sharing of scientific ocean data are critical to using ocean resources effectively and sustainably.

This year’s Annual Meeting in Davos is themed “Cooperation in a Fragmented World”, with energy security and climate change as central themes. Though the ocean has often been overlooked and neglected in climate change conversations, it plays a vital role in transitioning to a safe and sustainable energy future.

Opportunities Abound for Ocean Energy

Globally, ocean renewable energy is increasingly being used to mitigate climate change and phase out fossil fuels. From offshore wind to tidal, wave, thermal, and floating solar, the ocean offers a variety of energy sources. The world is finally turning its wider attention to renewable energy, reflected by a 35% increase in news mentions compared to the previous year.

However, the current capacity of ocean power is a long way from its full potential. According to the International Energy Agency, offshore wind could provide almost 18 times more energy than it consumes today. The High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy has set a goal of 40x more energy from the ocean.

Offshore wind installations will cover thousands of kilometres of ocean space in the coming years. If we use Europe as an example, the EU has committed to go from today´s 28GW to 300 GW in 2050. Hundreds of new turbines are currently installed offshore in Europe each year, and tens of thousands will be required to meet the global targets.

This infrastructure will easily harm other ocean sectors, including marine protection, if poorly planned. Risks associated with bad planning include habitat loss, disruption of migration routes, and noise. We need to plan the build-out well, with data and insight, to inform responsible site decisions, especially when we need to build so fast to provide more energy to the world. Today, our ability to measure and monitor the ocean has increased, and we are collecting more ocean data than ever.

As ocean data becomes available, we have promising, potentially mind-blowing opportunities for science-led, data-driven solutions to heal the ocean.

Unleashing the Power of Ocean Data

The offshore wind sector will require extensive data for site assessments and operations, as did other industries before them. If this data is shared openly once gathered, it can be reused to enable a deeper understanding of how offshore wind impacts its surroundings.

Data sharing would also have benefits beyond offshore wind development. Combining this data with multiple other sources may create synergies between ocean sectors. For instance, we can multiply the use of offshore wind farms by creating wildlife habitats for kelp and mussels.

We will need six times more food from the ocean by 2050 according to the Ocean High-Level Panel, and aquaculture will be a critical source of marine protein. Shellfish like mussels also improve ocean water quality, which improves biodiversity. The aquaculture industry is looking at wind installations as sites for offshore fish farms.

If these win-win solutions became the norm, there would be endless opportunities.

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What's the World Economic Forum doing about the ocean?

Borderless Collaboration - It starts with science

Our ability to combine and aggregate ocean data can create a common truth to guide decision-making. However, our journey to unleashing the power of data still has a long way to go. We will require borderless and unprecedented collaboration to get where we need to be. We can reimagine more effective ways to collect and reuse ocean data if science, industry, and government collaborate in novel ways. We need a true disruption of how we collaborate, to work together rather in silos.

The first step is a paradigm shift, a rewiring of mindsets around ocean data - transforming ocean data from something private and protected to a common good which should be made available to all. Crucially, the ocean itself is a common good, and any use of the ocean by corporations should be transparent.

The second step is acknowledging the mechanisms and interdependencies between science, industry and governments. Science plays a significant role in this dynamic. Scientists provide insight to government bodies in finding sustainable answers for our ocean use. It is imperative to hear the clear voices of scientists to unlock ocean data relevant to them.

In a recent workshop, HUB Ocean and IOC gathered more than 20 ocean scientists from Europe, the US and the Middle East who develop and run ocean models to understand and predict the ocean. We asked them how they use ocean data, the gaps, and how industrial data would benefit and impact their work.

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Now we have several cases for industrial data to be used by the ocean modelling community. We are convinced that this is where it needs to start for industry to start sharing on a broader scale; a clear scientific voice telling industry what industrial ocean data scientists need to run and improve their models.

Despite the microcosms of this process, it is certainly not systematic or widespread enough, and the enduring factor is often lacking. This collaboration must last over time rather than being a one-time event.

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Defragmenting the (ocean) world

We point to renewable energy to solve the energy crisis, but it is meaningless to talk about the solutions without talking about ocean health. The ocean is constantly changing, filling the need for an ever-lasting stream of relevant information.

To ensure that all stakeholders have access to vital ocean information, we must rely on:

  • Scientists to speak with a clear voice on what industrial data they need for deeper insight
  • Corporations to take courageous decisions to unlock their data
  • Governments to use science-led and data-driven insight for the ocean we need

Then it makes sense to talk about solutions to the energy crisis.

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Related topics:
Davos AgendaClimate and Nature
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Davos 2024 Opening Film

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