“Generating Value – Maximising the Value of Marine Energy in the United Kingdom” by the Marine Energy Programme Board, describes a “once in a lifetime opportunity to build a new energy sector which would deliver employment and business benefits within the UK by supplying the domestic market, as well as exporting abroad.” The MEPB was set up by the Government to help to develop the sector – it is chaired by the Energy Minister, Gregory Barker.
The UK has already installed more devices to generate clean electricity from wave and tidal energy than the rest of the world put together. Capacity is set to increase dramatically from 9.3 megawatts at present to 100-200MW by 2020. RenewableUK’s studies show the sector already employs 1,724 people in the UK – this is set to increase to 6,000 by 2023.
Long term, the MEPB notes that the UK is expected to capture a significant share of a global wave and tidal market, which will be worth £800 million per year to the UK economy by 2035. This market is set to reach a cumulative total of £48 billion between now and 2050.
There is massive potential for the wave and tidal energy industry and its supply chain to bring huge economic benefits to the UK and generate significant amounts of clean electricity. Every £1 of public money invested in the sector attracts £6 from the private sector. There is also great export potential for UK plc. However, the industry is at a critical stage of its development as it moves towards full commercialisation. Companies won’t invest in larger facilities until there is sufficient market visibility, coupled with the right combination of capital and revenue support, reflecting the current needs of the wave and tidal sectors.
Worldwide, a number of countries are positioning themselves to benefit from wave and tidal energy going mainstream. The French government is investing €200 million in developing tidal arrays (a group of devices linked together in the water) including state of the art facilities in the port of Cherbourg. Canada is launching a development programme in the Bay of Fundy and sector practitioners believe that this illustrates how hotly the wave and tidal prize will be contested in the future.
At RenewableUK’s 11th annual wave and tidal energy conference and exhibition, which takes place in Belfast this year (26th – 27th February), over 500 participants will hear that the UK is poised to extend its global lead in marine energy technologies but although wave and tidal energy is firmly on the path to commercialisation, the prize to secure the economic benefits could be lost to other countries if we don’t seize it now.