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 a new report by the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee.
Technologies that can harness the power of the sea to generate electricity are still in their infancy. But with the largest wave and tidal resources in Europe, up to 20% of the UK' electricity could eventually come from this reliable and predictable low-carbon source. Developing a thriving wave and tidal industry could also bring economic benefits to the UK. Companies based here could export equipment and components for marine devices to other markets, and also provide specialist skills and expertise, such as offshore surveying.
Tim Yeo MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
"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."
The UK is currently the world leader in the development of wave and tidal energy technologies. Of the eight full-scale prototype devices installed worldwide, seven are in the UK. This success is the result of a number of factors; an abundant natural resource, a long history of academic research, world-class testing facilities and a strong skills base in other maritime industries.
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.
Tim Yeo MP added:
"In the eighties 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."
The report identifies a number of potential obstacles that could hinder the development of a marine renewables industry in the UK. Investor confidence, policy certainty, public-private risk sharing, improved grid connections and a workforce with the necessary engineering skills are all crucial if the UK hopes to retain its lead in this industry.
The UK needs a strong political vision to boost confidence and drive the pace of development in order to reap the rewards of a successful wave and tidal power industry. The Gov should not rule out setting an ambitious deployment target for marine renewables in the future and should consider introducing such a target if cost reductions to 2020 remain on track. Splitting the costs between the private and public sectors may help to reduce risks for investors, as could addressing practical barriers (such as lack of grid connections). The Government must also encourage more students into engineering disciplines now so that they are able to take advantage of the new jobs that could be created through a UK based wave and tidal industry.