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Future prospects for tidal energy and wave power in the UK

BY STUART BRADLEY. Tidal stream energy can have a significant role to play in the UK’s future energy system and has the potential to compete with other low carbon energy sources on cost. 1 However, the future for a cost competitive wave energy industry is less certain and the industry needs a fresh approach to how it extracts and converts energy from waves if costs are to come down and make it viable.

That’s according to newly released reports from the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI).The two Insight Reports, written by Stuart Bradley, ETI’s offshore renewables strategy manager, look at the opportunities and challenges facing the marine energy industry. Specifically, they examine the potential for exploiting tidal stream and wave energy in the UK, building on the learnings derived from ETI’s Marine technology programme and in-house ETI energy system-level analysis.

“Our marine technology programme aims to help accelerate the development of the UK’s most promising marine technologies,” Bradley said. “The UK has an abundance of natural resources, but they have to be harnessed in the most competitive way if they are to form a significant part of the UK’s future low carbon energy needs.”

According to Bradley, tidal stream energy has the potential to compete with other low carbon sources, given the fact that it is reliable and predictable. Another plus: it can create jobs and economic benefits. “The UK leads the world in tidal device development, and our tidal energy converter work has shown that array-scale engineering is essential,” Bradley explained. “But from a tidal perspective, the innovation needs are known so the focus should be on putting them together rather than any reinvention.”

For tidal, the Insight report concludes that the focus of further cost reduction for the tidal industry should be on developing array-scale systems, coordinated investment into supply chain innovation, their processes and employee training. The report also stresses that more work needs to be done if wave energy is to become cost competitive in the medium term, and that even with aggressive cost reduction and innovation activities, current attenuator wave energy technologies are unlikely to make a significant contribution to the UK energy system in the coming years.

With respect to wave energy, ETI notes that this form of power is less predictable than tidal energy. Plus, the costs of extracting it are significantly higher than other forms of low carbon energy (which, by comparison, are coming down in costs.)

“Our wave energy convertor work shows that the design convergence of arrays and device systems is essential, but the industry needs a radical rethink to reconsider its approach to extracting and converting wave energy for lower cost solutions in the longer term,” Bradley explained. “As such, we welcome the introduction of parties such as Wave Energy Scotland, who will bring a fresh approach to the market, focusing on learning from collaboration and a rethink on the design of conversion and extraction technology.” 

About the author: Stuart Bradley joined the ETI in October 2013 as Strategy Manager, Offshore Renewables. He is a Marine Engineer, and has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering.

  1. The tidal sector has transitioned in recent years from small-scale prototype devices, through to full-scale demonstration and early commercial arrays are now in development.

Posted 25/02/2015 by Reg Tucker

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