Canadian marine renewable energy (MRE): Part of our energy future

By Erin Stapleton

The effects of climate change are increasingly evident. Here in my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, we see it in our eroding coastlines, more-extreme weather events, and rising sea temperatures. The sources we choose to meet our energy demands, and how we develop those resources, either contribute to the problem of climate change or help in the fight against it. With vast ocean resources, marine renewables are an important part of Canada’s energy future. However, it’s equally important that we have a comprehensive regulatory regime, thorough impact assessment, and proactive public engagement for Canadian marine renewable energy (MRE).

The Block Island wind farm located off the coast of Rhode Island. Image source:×684.jpg

What is MRE?  MRE is the harnessing of power from ocean winds and waves, tidal flows, and salinity and temperature gradients. The movement of water in the world’s oceans and the wind off our coasts create a massive amount of energy that can be used to generate electricity. Types of MRE include in-stream tidal, tidal ranges, wave energy, river energy, and offshore wind.

Where is MRE being developed? MRE is being developed worldwide. Offshore wind has been developed in Europe and the UK for decades, and India, Australia, Taiwan, China, and the US are just getting started in the sector. Countries active in tidal and wave energy research and development include Scotland, Wales, Chile and Singapore.


The Cape Sharp tidal turbine in the Bay of Fundy. Image Source:

How about in Canada? Surrounded by three oceans, Canada has a substantial ocean energy resource. Let’s focus on wave energy as an example. The annual mean wave power along Canada’s Pacific coast is about 37,000 MW, equivalent to over 55% of Canada’s electricity consumption. Along the Atlantic coast, it’s roughly 146,500 MW – that’s more than double our current electricity demand. For various technical, environmental and social reasons, only a fraction of the available ocean energy resource can be extracted and converted into power. Still, what is available is sufficient to justify MRE as an important part of our energy future.

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) has a Clean Energy Resources and Projects (CERP) map that includes our tidal, wave and wind energy potential and current projects.  The Strait of Belle Isle, Bay of Fundy, Hudson Strait and Georgia Strait are tidal powerhouses; and our Pacific and Atlantic offshore areas have amongst the best wind and wave resources in the world. Despite these resources, only tidal generators in the Bay of Fundy are producing power for community use; no wave or offshore wind projects…yet anyway! With the support of our current federal government, there are proposed developments across the country, from wave energy projects in BC to offshore wind farms off the coast of Newfoundland.  

The University of Victoria West Coast Wave Initiative AXYS wave buoy measures and collects wave data. Image Source:

Proper planning is necessary. While the potential for MRE in Canada is exciting, it’s also important to develop our resources in a sustainable manner, and that includes having a comprehensive regulatory regime, a thorough impact assessment process, and a proactive public engagement strategy. Offshore wind has a long history in the UK and Europe, however, the technology is new to Canada’s environment and citizens. Tidal and wave energy is a relatively recent innovation worldwide and needs to be developed incrementally to ensure we fully understand potential issues and concerns. While there isn’t yet a regulatory regime for MRE in federal waters (where offshore wind projects are typically located), one is under development by our federal government. McInnes Cooper suggests a regulatory framework like that of offshore oil and gas (i.e., Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board). Provinces are responsible for regulations for MRE projects in provincial waters (where tidal projects are typically located). For example, Nova Scotia introduced their Marine Renewable Energy Act in 2015, which is largely aimed at their burgeoning tidal sector.

With the federal review of the environmental assessment process underway, I’m hopeful there will be specific direction and expectations for impact assessment for MRE. And whether regulated or not, I strongly believe that any proponent of MRE should undertake extensive stakeholder engagement throughout the planning, development, operation and decommissioning of their projects. While MRE is certainly preferred over other traditional power sources (like coal or large-scale hydro), it still has the potential for some impacts to our environment and our communities that must be carefully considered and adequately addressed.

MRE is central to Canada’s energy future. There is a global shift towards renewable energy development and Canada has already embraced onshore wind, solar and biomass. With our exceptional marine energy resources and our commitment to combat climate change, we can be leaders in MRE and ensure a cleaner, greener energy future for all Canadians.


Erin is Director and Principal Consultant at Stapleton Environmental Consulting Inc., which supports sustainable development of our natural resources by providing environmental assessment, stakeholder engagement, and applied research services. Erin believes in balancing economic growth with environmental protection, engaging communities in developing our resources, and finding innovative solutions to energy challenges. The current focus of her work is applied research and stakeholder engagement to inform policy and business decisions in the offshore wind energy sector.  You can follow her on Twitter @StapletonEnviro and on LinkedIn, and can check out her website at: