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Rationale of Blue Growth in the EU

The Blue Growth concept

The concept has started from the notion that maritime economic activities cannot only be captured through a sectoral approach. The maritime (as well as non-maritime) nature of an activity is not necessarily determined by an industrial classification. Blue Growth is the long term strategy to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors as a whole. Seas and oceans are drivers for the European economy and have great potential for innovation and growth. It is the maritime contribution to achieving the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

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The EU’s Blue Economy encompasses all sectoral and cross-sectoral economic activities related to the oceans, seas and coasts, including those in the EU’s outermost regions and landlocked countries. This includes the closest direct and indirect support activities necessary for the sustainable functioning and development of these economic sectors within the single market. It comprises emerging sectors and economic value based on natural capital and non-market goods and services. The 'blue' economy represents roughly 5.4 million jobs and generates a gross added value of almost €500 billion a year. However, further growth is possible in a number of areas which are highlighted within the strategy.

European Commission (2019). The EU Blue Economy Report. 2019. Publications Office of the European Union. Luxembourg.

Smart Specialisation activities support policy-makers, regional and national authorities and other stakeholders involved in research and innovation to bridge blue growth investment platforms and regional innovation initiatives.  

Blue economy represents a niche of innovation possibilities for many regions across the EU. One out of five EU regions are specialising in at least one domain related to the blue economy. Among those domains we can find: Green shipping and water transport including highways of the seas; blue renewable energy, marine biotechnology. (more info on https://s3platform.jrc.ec.europa.eu/eye-ris3 )

Emerging sectors include marine renewable energy, biotechnology, blue biotechnology, desalinisation, deep-seabed mining, and coastal and environmental protection. When addressing emerging sectors of the blue economy, an important concern remains in the scarce level of information and/or absence of statistical data, standardised indicators and other tools useful to measure economic and innovation impact.

The characteristics and principles of the Smart Specialisation approach help to strengthen economic competitiveness through an inclusive participatory process leading to discover and promote the previously untapped innovation potential and facilitate its market potentials. This approach instigates knowledge exchange among several stakeholders eager to conceive more details and data to support and instruct smart, sustainable, socially effective evidence based regional choices. Accordingly, the Smart Specialisation framework helps to spot blue-growth niches of innovation, including its economic activity.  

Joint collaboration JRC and DG MARE

In support of the Annual Report on the EU Blue Economy 2019 and 2020, the Smart Specialisation platform analyses policy activity, results and evidences coming from project interventions, collaborative frameworks, industrial advancement and research activity in the so-called "emerging sectors" of the Blue Economy, taking as reference EU regions identifying blue-related priorities of Smart Specialisation. The analysis integrates elements helping to obtain a deep vision of potential economic impact at regional and member states levels in terms of technological stage, key actors, volume of business, international projection, related strategies, backing funding and indicators. The geographic scope of this analysis focuses on the EU, paying particular attention to regional, interregional, Member State and macro-regional contexts linked to the Sea basins. The contribution is oriented towards the pre-identification of indicators or set of indicators that will be consistent enough to allow consequent identification, exploration, mapping and analysing of potential economic impact of emerging sectors in the European regions and MSs to create new competitive value chains with innovative products and services.

Place-based innovation is a key element to assure coherence between the territorial dimension and innovation potential. The Smart Specialisation Strategies designed by the EU regions reflect these linkages enhancing the value of local strengths. Regarding the blue economy some regional specialisations target interesting activities of blue economy emerging sector specialisations as follows: 

Brittany region (FR), marine biotechnology. Marine Biotechnology focused on macro and micro-algae, invertebrates, bacteria and viruses constitutes one of the innovation priorities for Brittany. The Smart Specialisation Strategy of this region identifies the potential in industries operating in the domains of food, health, cosmetics, biofuels and green chemistry.  The strategy has also identified the close connection between research in this area and the development of new business models of marine living resources, mostly fisheries and fish farms.

Azores region (PT), strengthening research capacity in deep seabed mining. Azores want to become an intercontinental platform of reference for the knowledge of the sea. Accordingly, the Smart Specialisation of this region identifies strategic activities such as:

  • Strengthening research in thematic areas with high economic potential such as biotechnology and exploration of mineral resources in deep-sea.

  • Ensure environmental monitoring, aimed at the sustainable exploitation of Atlantic marine resources.

  • Strengthening the Azores' external links as an intercontinental platform (notably Europe - America - Africa) in the area of knowledge of the oceans.

Ida-Viru, Estonia, Cross-sectorial dimension of blue economy. This region identifies domains of specialisation in the areas of tourism, health services, wind energy, fish farming and boat building and repair. These blue-economy based domains are also aligned with the national framework of Smart Specialisation of Estonia in which both new and emerging sectors co-exist as a way to drive economic development. The map shows how these specialisations take place in different territorial entities of Estonia and neighbouring Baltic Sea regions.

Schleswig-Holstein (DE), Participatory process and knowledge flow. The Smart Specialisation process in this German region identified "maritime economy" as one of the five domains with innovation potential. The decision was taken as a result of inclusive dialogue aiming at mutualising knowledge and bringing regional economic perspective. Over the process, territorial actors from public and private sector, academy and civil society were actively engaged. With this decision, the Smart Specialisation Strategy endorses policy interventions and commits funding in the areas of maritime technologies, specialised ship construction, offshore energy, and maritime biotechnology and production facilities, among others.

Canary Islands (ES), the added value of universities to support innovation niches of the blue economy. The Smart Specialisation strategy of this Spanish archipelago recognises the added-value of universities. A relevant role for supporting the innovation of regional economy is attributed to the local network of Universities and research centres, each covering a specialisation across a wide range of innovation areas. Applied research and technical platforms to test specific solutions are essential in the region to promote innovation in mature sectors (e.g. tourism and shipbuilding) and to position the region within innovative niches with high potentials (e.g. ocean energy) through international strategic partnerships with research centres and industries. A strategic role is also played by the local cluster, acting as a bridge between enterprises and research.

Ireland, policy coherence measures and synergies between national and regional levels of administration. Ireland has promoted a reorganisation of administrative structures at regional level, as a mean to respond more effectively in the innovative sectors identified as priorities of Smart Specialisation. A marine coordination group has been established with senior officials from a range of relevant Departments from the Central Governments and the agency dealing with the policy. Regional Assemblies are functioning as a bridge between national policies and regional needs, so to assure that local priorities and specifications – also the ones regarding blue growth are respected in the implementation of the central government actions. Importantly, a network of brokers has been set up so to engage with local entrepreneurs and other economic actors, to assure their understanding of administrative functioning and to identify potential interesting project ideas to be funded.

Portugal Centro (PT), interregional cooperation and value Nets. The development of value chains associated with the natural endogenous resources in marine environments is a specific domain of specialisation included in the regional strategy of Portugal Centro region. Conservation and sustainable monitoring of these natural resources as well as the development of new products and services constitute innovation niches aiming at reinvigorate the economic development. These priorities are also synergised with a regional innovation hub on endogenous resources which combines expertise from different entities and stakeholders. Nation-wide, Portugal has mapped the existing networks of knowledge creation and exchange in the country through an assessment of themes covered by local nodes and their integration, including blue economy. This approach has allowed for an initial understanding of the current status of knowledge exchange. As a second step, the extent to which such networks interact with the key sectors identified by the Smart Specialisation strategy can measure advancements and improvements of such exchanges through regional investments. This could be done, for example, by comparing local nodes in the networks and existing companies across the value chains of strategic blue economy sectors. By using the initial mapping as a baseline, the effects of the implementation of the national strategy can be constantly monitored through the assessment of changes in the networks.

Galicia region (ES), a holistic view of innovation. Valorisation of the Sea is a concrete priority for the Galician Smart Specialisation strategy. This priority is addressed from a holistic view of innovation which includes not only high-tech innovation but also services and services innovation.  Valorisation of by-products and waste generated by production chains linked to the sea, new service business models, improvement in the commercialisation of associated products and services are also part of the actions covered by the strategy. The following shows the different policy instruments identified by the strategy in order to support the specialisation domains.

The interregional Partnership on Smart Specialisation in Marine Renewable Energy

Europe has a strong business and technological fabric operating in the energy and marine industry, alongside with excellent marine resources in terms of recoverable energy. Despite relevant technological advances, the deployment of the Marine Renewable Energy (MRE) sector is not increasing fast enough to meet the EU ambitious goals. Aware of this situation, 15 EU regions leaded by Scotland and the Basque Country joined forces to set-up the Marine Renewable Energy (MRE) partnership. The MRE partnership is based on the previous work of one of the Vanguard Initiative (VI) pilot actions, “Advanced Manufacturing for Energy Related Applications in Harsh Environments” (ADMA Energy) and benefits from synergies between both initiatives.

The main strategic objective of MRE partnership is to support European companies to improve their competitiveness as suppliers of products, services and solutions with highly demanding requirements in terms of quality, integrity, efficiency and reliability for the marine renewable energy markets (offshore wind, wave and tidal energies), through cross-sectoral and cross-regional collaboration.

To that end, the MRE set up the following operational objectives:

  • Facilitate to EU companies the best partnerships in order to address and solve specific challenges at the technological level in the different markets and segments:
  • For offshore wind energy, the challenges include increased water depths, more remote and distant site locations, corrosion of towers and foundations and larger size of components, with a resultant increase in logistical challenges for installation, O&M
  • For ocean energy (wave and tidal), the current biggest challenge is the survivability of the marine devices.
  • Help companies and R&D organisations to establish a better understanding about the critical factors to succeed and develop a long-term vision in close partnership with the relevant stakeholders.
  • Reveal visibility of the European industrial potential and help companies to identify their technological needs.
  • Help policy makers understand the needs of actors and thus be in a better position to design effective policy responses.

The partnership currently comprises the 16 regions that have identified MRE as one of their key Smart Specialisation priorities based on their present capacities and growth potential regarding the renewable resources available in the region and the technological competences. These regions are: Andalusia (ES); Asturias (ES); Basque Country (ES); Brittany (FR); Cornwall and Isles of Scilly (UK);Dalarna (SE); Emilia-Romagna (IT); Flanders (BE); Lombardy (IT); Navarra (ES); Norte (PT); Ostrobothnia (FI); Scotland (UK); Skåne (SE); Sogn and Fjordane (NO); Southern Denmark (DK).

The MRE sectors (offshore wind and ocean energies, that include wave and tidal) are experiencing development but unevenly, with differing degrees of technical and economic maturity between the MRE sources. At present, only fixed offshore wind installations  can be considered as a true industry sector. The technology of deep offshore wind farms (at water depths greater than 50 m) is still at a pre-commercialization stage and floating substructures are currently at pilot and pre-commercialization stage. The leading developers of tidal and wave devices are on the other hand installing and testing large-scale prototypes in real sea conditions, as well as their first farm of devices.

The complexity involved in the MRE sector leads to higher costs of energy generation than other methods of generating green electricity.

The higher cost is on the one hand, the result of emerging industry moving from full-scale prototype stage to first arrays. Funding issues, lack of investors and administrative problems can cause the sector to lag. On the other side, the marine environment adds great difficulties, leading to increased investment in deploying cables offshore, building foundations at sea, transportation of materials to more remote areas and installing equipment and turbines at sea.

In 2016 a Technology Roadmap was defined by the Vanguard ADMA Energy Pilot (with a high level of participation of industry through a survey and workshops), to establish a better understanding about the critical factors to success, to develop a long-term vision in close partnership with the relevant stakeholders and to help policy makers understand needs of actors and thus be in a better position to design effective policy responses. The Technology Roadmap stated that the overarching industrial challenge focuses on offering added-value solutions for offshore environments while driving down investment and operating costs in order to maintain competitiveness of the industry. 

The key aspects for overcoming the overarching MRE industrial challenge, which focuses on driving down investment and operating costs in order to maintain competitiveness, are shown below:

State of play: Regional agencies and authorities, Cluster organizations, SMEs intermediaries and technology centres from the regions involved have worked together for 4 years with the main objective of improving the competitiveness and international positioning of European SMEs manufacturers of equipment and components.

Partner regions have identified some operational challenges pointed out by their MRE value chain stakeholders, which can be summarised as follows:

  • Few established and systematic relationships exist between companies and organizations.
  • Access to a broad and competitive offer of testing and demonstration infrastructures available in Europe is complex, due to limited information, lack of alignment between the industrial needs and the offered services and high prices.
  • Access to key persons in big customers (facility owners, EPC developers, OEMs) in order to fully understand their core needs and challenges is difficult and limited in time and subjects.
  • The process of searching well-matched partners outside their home regions and discussing collaboration agreements is challenging for most companies, and few SMEs are able to invest time and money in this process without assistance.
  • Information deficiency acts as a barrier to foster any kind of partnering opportunities.

The industry stakeholders agreed on the fact that achieving added-value cost-competitive solutions requires a continuous technological development and an aggregate thinking of all value chain processes and actors involved. The major technological challenges that companies face in the MRE sectors:

  • Corrosion of materials and components in marine environments
  • Sensing and remote monitoring in marine renewable energy facilities
  • Manufacturing and handling of large-scale components
  • Cost reduction of offshore operation and maintenance activities.

The MRE partnership has taken these four technological challenges as the priority fields where common interest initiatives, projects and investments could be developed in collaboration by companies and stakeholders from the different regions. One of the most relevant examples of the pilot projects boosted through the MRE partnership has been NeSSIE, a project funded by DG-MARE that taps into the existing knowledge of anti-corrosion technology/novel materials solutions in the maritime sector supply chain, to develop demonstration projects for offshore renewables in the North Sea . Other example of the joint work of the MRE partnership is the new Pilot Action under the title of “Sensing & Remote Monitoring in Marine Renewable Energy facilities” (S&RM in MRE). This action, financed by DG REGIO, responds to the objective of accelerating digitalization of offshore windfarms and facilitate the acquisition and analysis of the data produced under real operating conditions, in order to generate value for companies at all levels of the value chain.

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