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UK wave and tidal has huge potential – needs government backing

The UK could become a leading exporter of wave and tidal power equipment and expertise if the Government adopts a more visionary approach to developing marine renewables, according to the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee.

By Kari Williamson

With the largest wave and tidal resources in Europe, up to 20% of the UK' electricity could eventually come from marine renewables, and developing a thriving wave and tidal industry could bring economic benefits to the UK, the committee says.

Tim Yeo MP, Chair of the Committee, comments: "Britannia really could rule the waves when it comes to marine renewable energy. We are extremely well placed to lead the world in wave and tidal technologies, which could potentially bring significant benefits in manufacturing and jobs, as well an abundant supply of reliable low-carbon electricity. A more visionary approach from the Department of Energy and Climate Change could help to boost confidence and drive the pace of development."

Of the 8 full-scale prototype wave and tidal devices installed worldwide, 7 are in the UK.

The report warns, however, that an overly cautious approach to developing this sector may allow other less risk-averse countries to steal the UK's lead. It points out that although the UK was at one point a leader in terms of research and testing of wind turbines, it failed to establish a domestic manufacturing industry and missed out on many economic benefits. Denmark, in contrast, supported its wind power industry through the early adoption of Feed-in Tariffs and is now home to the world’s largest supplier of wind turbines.

Yeo adds: "In the 80s the UK squandered the lead it had in wind power development and now Denmark has a large share of the worldwide market in turbine manufacturing. It should be a priority for the Government to ensure that the UK remains at the cutting edge of developments in this technology and does not allow our lead to slip."

Potential obstacles that could hinder the development of a wave and tidal industry in the UK include: investor confidence, policy certainty, public-private risk sharing, improved grid connections and a workforce with the necessary engineering skills.

Aquamarine Power's CEO Martin McAdam, has welcomed the report.

The report is based on written evidence and a series of select committee hearings where a number of utilities, industrial companies and technology developers, including Aquamarine Power, were called to give evidence.

McAdam says in his blog :”Many of us cited the example of Denmark, which has successfully built a £multi-billion wind turbine export industry with technology first developed here in the UK.

“What did they do that we did not? They put in place a supportive grant structure and a clear, stable long-term tariff to incentivise investment.

“The Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Scottish Government have both played a vital role in supporting the UK's wave and tidal companies to date, and are finalising the details of an appropriate grant regime for the first marine energy test arrays. What is needed now is clear sight of the long-term tariff.”

He says the 2017 expiry of the Renewable Obligation Certificates does not give investors the confidence needed to support the wave and tidal industry.

“The shift from ROCs to FITs has already unsettled potential investors, and what we need now is a stable tariff that will stay in place, and not be tinkered with for a number of years.,” he says.

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Policy, investment and markets  •  Wave and tidal energy