There are two main reasons why investors are looking at the ocean.
First, the ocean has the potential to meet societal challenges and needs. We are burning too much fossil fuel. Waves have the potential to provide 50% more power than the total consumption of planet Earth in 2015. We are running out of land and freshwater to produce food. Seafood needs neither. We must take care of a growing and ageing population. Marine life, which is much more diverse than life on land, can help us to develop new pharmaceutical products.
Second, technology has advanced to a point where we can reach that potential. Advances in materials allow us to build equipment that can survive storms, corrosion or biofouling. Advances in robotics have cut down the cost of building, operating and maintaining infrastructure and equipment located offshore or deep below the surface. And advances in genetics enable us to understand how the unique biodiversity of the ocean can be harnessed to provide food, energy and medicine for a population that is growing in numbers and expectations.
This will mean profound changes in the nature of the blue economy, some of which are already underway. There are now more wind turbines than oil platforms in the North Sea.
The job market is undergoing diversification and new sectors are emerging beside traditional ones: there are now more people working in offshore renewable energy than fishers. Other developments are just around the corner. New processes, products and services are being developed and tested in laboratories as we speak. Start-ups, young and dynamic companies as well as established firms are keen to bring these to the market.
In a recent scan of the landscape in the European Union, we encountered more than 400 projects of varying maturity that gave us a glimpse of how the blue economy could look like in ten years’ time. We saw underwater kites, clothing made of marine litter, speedboats propelled by clean energy, feed for animals and veggie burgers for human consumption made of microalgae, new materials for repairing underwater pipes, submarine robots that can count and classify shoals of fish, and much more.
This is why the European Commission’s recent Blue Invest matchmaking event, where some of these revolutionary projects were presented, attracted dozens of investors, some of whom are leaders in the sector while others are eager to get more involved.
Many of these new projects have already received support from the EU via the Horizon2020 instrument for small and medium enterprises. We now want to build on this. Next year, we will launch a new blue assistance mechanism that will ensure these companies have the appropriate business plans, relationship with suppliers and customers, intellectual property protection and management structure for scaling up. We are looking at helping those public and private bodies that invest in ideas that can accelerate the transition towards a cleaner, less resource intensive blue economy. We want to maximise the impact of any EU funding by giving preference to companies that can attract other investors. The Juncker Fund has already underwritten several larger projects such as wind farm construction or port redevelopment. We are talking to the European Investment Bank family about mechanisms for extending their guarantees to smaller, more innovative projects.
Communication between all members of the blue investment community is essential – universities, businesses, suppliers, customers, start-ups, accelerators, maritime clusters, banks, investors, foundations. The Blue Innovation magazine will encourage such communication and help to speed up the transition towards the future of the blue economy. I wish you every success.