Marine energy could provide major boost for UK and Europe

Marine energy could produce up to 20% of the UK's current electricity needs and provide a long-term global business opportunity for European industry worth at least £600 billion.

These are the results of two reports this week into the potential of the marine energy market.

The first, by the Carbon Trust, predicts that the cost of marine renewables has the potential to fall significantly in the future provided it is backed by private investment and long-term Government support.

Provided these are in place, along with other key factors such as availability of grid connections and network capacity, regulation and security of supply considerations, the report claims, marine energy could rival conventional and other types of renewable energy generation in the long term – and easily meet three per cent of the UK’s total electricity supply by 2020.

“The UK leads the world in marine renewables technology development,” said John Callaghan, Programme Engineer at the Carbon Trust. “Given our superb natural resources and long-standing experience in offshore oil and gas, ship-building and power generation, the UK is in prime position to accelerate commercial progress in the marine energy sector and secure economic value by selling marine energy devices, developing wave and tidal stream farms and creating new revenues from electricity generation.”

“Our report indicates that wave and tidal stream resources could ultimately provide up to a fifth of UK energy needs. However, public support and private investment is needed now to step up the pace of marine renewables development in the UK and ensure it meets its potential.”

The Carbon Trust recommends that the UK public sector funders should consider the following ways to support the development of the UK marine sector:

  • Give increased support over time for marine renewables technology development, with greater support for R&D and cross-cutting technology issues to help deliver cost reductions;

  • Support marine renewables project development from now into the medium term, contingent on technologies proving technically viable in the first instance, and later on evidence of reducing costs;

  • Develop a clear long-term policy framework for support to the sector to give business greater investment certainty.

    The conclusions of the Carbon Trust report were also echoed in findings from business research and energy forecasting specialists Douglas-Westwood who this week said that wave and tidal energy could be worth £600 billion (€900 billion) for European industry.

    Speaking at a keynote address to the 2nd French-British seminar on Marine Renewable Energy in Le Havre, Benoit Dal Farro, analyst with Douglas-Westwood, said: “This could be a commercial opportunity for Europe on the scale of the Airbus project.”

    Drawing from Douglas-Westwood’s World Wave and Tidal Database of future projects, he stated that, “whilst it is too early to predict the long-term economics of wave and tidal power generation, Europe has access to a major natural resource and excellent technology which may soon deliver commercially viable electricity supplies.”

    “In such a commercially new and uncertain area the only thing to be certain of is that, by whatever dimension you may analyse the opportunity, this is too big for any one country and needs a full-scale engagement at European level. By ignoring this need, we may expose ourselves to the increasing dominance of American and Chinese technology programmes,” he warned.

    Marcus Rand, Chief Executive at British Wind Energy Association, said the Carbon Trust’s report has been published at a critical time as it ties in with the launch of the energy review in the UK.

    “Importantly it lays down the challenge to Government and industry to provide the appropriate levels of public and private sector support over the coming years to ensure this vision becomes a reality,” he said. “We must, as a nation, urgently pick up this challenge as evidence form the wind sector shows where long-term support is provided the costs of power generation can be reduced significantly and the multiple environmental and economic benefits can be harnessed.”

    David Hopkins

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