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28 November 2019updated 16 Sep 2021 4:50pm

A sea change to net zero

By Sue Barr

Our current climate crisis demands innovation in energy generation. To reach our targets, we must change how we generate, distribute, and consume electricity. Renewables have, on certain days, reduced coal power generation to zero but we need diversity in energy generation.

Today, the UK leads in ocean energy – harnessing the power of the waves and predictable tides around our islands. Our coastline accounts for 35 per cent of Europe’s wave resources and 50 per cent of its tidal resources.

Estimates predict 20 per cent of UK electricity could be supplied by ocean energy with a net cumulative benefit of £1.4bn by 2030 from tidal energy providing 4,000 new jobs in regional economies, while wave energy is predicted to support 8,100 jobs by 2040. However, marine energy needs a market. The UK Marine Energy Council believes that marine energy can meet the UK government’s “triple test” for support in the following ways:

Maximum carbon reduction

For every kWh generated by marine energy, 394g of CO2 is saved in comparison to conventional generation. Marine energy could provide a reduction of 4 MtCO2 per year from 2040.

Cost reduction pathway

Marine energy is becoming cheaper. With 200 MW of deployment, tidal stream generation could reach £150 MW/h. Further rapid reductions in costs can also be achieved.

The UK’s global advantage

We lead in the development of technology, with UK companies such as Orbital Marine Power, QED Naval, Marine Power Systems, and Nova Innovation.

The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) established in 2003, is a world first, hosting multiple projects, including the FORSEA Interreg NWE project. Through FORSEA Orbital’s SR2000 2MW, the world’s most powerful tidal turbine, produced over 3 GWh of generation in 12 months powering over 800 homes. That represents 7 per cent of Orkney’s electricity demand – so for one day in every 14, a community ran completely on tidal energy.

MeyGen, the world’s largest tidal array was deployed in Scotland by Simec Atlantis and the UK hosts several global companies. Swedish tidal developer, Minesto, based operations in Anglesey, and Bombora Wave Power, an Australian wave energy company, has headquartered European operations in Pembrokeshire.

UK tidal technology is also part of the €46.8m Interreg Tidal Stream Industry Energiser Project to deliver tidal energy in France and the UK with investment driving significant supply chain development. A diverse range of firms now have unprecedented experience in the sector, exporting skills globally.

Economic opportunity

Marine energy can deliver regional economic opportunities to areas such as the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, the South West of England and the coast of Wales. Up to 60 per cent of the economic benefit of both GVA and jobs will be in coastal areas.

The International Energy Agency forecasts that around 337 GW of ocean energy capacity could be deployed globally by 2050. This represents a £76bn market and a huge opportunity
to export.

The UK lead is at risk

Government support of marine energy is critical to deliver this sector. The Marine Energy Council has proposed three interlinked support models to deliver marine energy to a cost-competitive position and secure a predictable, clean energy supply for the UK. This includes an Innovation Power Purchase Agreement (IPPA) and innovation “pot” for emerging technologies through the Contracts for Difference framework. Revenue support will deliver our marine energy future, supporting the government’s own clean growth targets.

Ocean energy can commercialise here in the UK and ensure that we retain the world lead in this emerging industry.

Are you with us?

Sue Barr is chair of the Marine Energy Council.

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