Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Marine power set to surge forward

The UK could capture up to a quarter of the global market in marine energy, worth about £76 billion, creating over 68,000 jobs in the UK by 2050, according to new analysis from the Carbon Trust and the EC.

The UK is currently the global leader in terms of marine renewable development. Its level of innovation activity has significant capabilities compared to elsewhere.

Partly because of its significant natural resources, the UK could therefore become the 'natural owner" of these technologies, and leave the commercialisation process for the rest of the world.

But given the relative early-stage of the technology, a few years of careful, concerted demonstration and development is required.

Because of its coastline and geographical location, the British Isles is blessed with almost half of Europe's wave and over a quarter of its tidal resources, representing about 2-3% of global wave resources and around 10% of global tidal resources.

Marine technologies include wave machines such as the Pelamis, used in a 2.5 MW British installation off Portugal, tidal barrages and lagoons, only currently implemented in one place in Europe - La Rance, and marine current turbines, such as Marine Current Turbines Ltd's (MCT) SeaGen machine.

The Carbon Trust report does not cover tidal barrages and lagoons, only marine current turbines.

Capturing the potential

Countries which now lead the way in other renewable technologies, such as Denmark and Germany with wind power, have done so by consistently and carefully supporting the companies involved, from the early stage through to maturity with technical and financial help.

As a result, tens of thousands of jobs have been created in the wind industry in Denmark, with most products being exported.

By contrast, in America and Britain, support for wind power was sporadic and short-term in the 1970s and 1980s, so they fell behind.

The report argues that we should not make the same mistake again with marine energy.

The industry, eagerly anticipating its 2011 Conference next month in Brussels, is in a similar stage that the wind industry was in in the 1970s. However, unlike them, there is already a ready market in China, Korea, America and European countries with Atlantic coasts, so the conference will focus on steps to commercialisation.

And unlike wind and solar energy, tidal energy is predictable.

The report says that the total market for marine energy in a high scenario is worth up to around 」460 billion in the period until 2050, with the market reaching up to 」40 billion per year by that date.

In the UK alone, the report considers that up to 1 GW of marine technologies could be installed by 2020, rising to 27.5 GW by 2050. Of this, 18.5 GW is wave energy and 9 GW is tidal stream.

Globally, deployment of wave energy capturing machines could be 189 GW by 2050. However, this depends on significant technological developments, giving rise to considerable uncertainty.

The Carbon Trust says that up to 52 GW of tidal energy could be deployed globally by 2050.


Britain faces competition from the US, Spain and Portugal particularly. The Basque Government, through the Basque Energy Agency (EVE), recently awarded a 10.4 million euro contract for supply of power and communication lines for the Biscay Marine Energy Platform (bimep), a wave energy research project, to Spanish company Elecnor.

Around the world there are around 80 device developers in wave energy technology. 80% of these are at early research stage. The leading developers are Pelamis (UK), Aquamarine Power (UK), and Ocean Power Technology (US).

In tidal stream there are around 50 developers globally. About eight building devices at full-scale. Many are being developed at smaller scale, but second-generation designs which could overtake. Leaders include Marine: Turbines, Atlantis, Hammerfest Strom, Voith Hydro, Puse Tidal, Tidal Generation and Open Hydro. The UK leads with around 15 devices. Canada has around seven and United States around five.

Of around 40 universities in the world researching the technologies, 13 are in the UK. The UK also has good testing infrastructure through NaREC MEC and WaveHub, essential for development of robust technologies.

Overcoming barriers

There are currently many competing types of wave and tidal machine. Last month, an intensive and valuable three year European project called EquiMar was completed, which attempted to evaluate them all, and the state of the industry. Several British organisations took part, including the University of Southampton, Pelamis and Wave Dragon.

EquiMar has produced comprehensive research reports including protocols for site evaluation, performance monitoring, risk assessment, and future scenarios.

It identified that the main barriers to development are:
- the supply chain of components
- planning issues
- the diversity of concepts
- lack of standards
- and, above all the small size of the sector at present.

Volume purchasing is required to combat some of these barriers, as happened in, for example, the nuclear industry in the 1960s and '70s, and the wind industry in the last 20 years. This will improve the technical performance of the chosen devices.

The Carbon Trust report also summarises what the industry needs to expand:
- technologies must be proven and ready to upscale
- they must be cost competitive with other low carbon technologies
- public acceptance and no negative environmental impact
- a drop in support for fossil fuel and nuclear power, or failure of carbon capture and storage to meet expectations.

MCT is monitoring its SeaGen turbines in Northern Island for its impact on wildlife such as seals. Results so far are good.

Both reports underline that planning issues are key so that the regime for offshore developments is quite clear. Depending on the location there are some synergies with offshore wind farm development, such as connectivity to the grid.

In the short-term, most of the supply chain will be inside the EU, but as the industry upscales the costs are driven down together with new markets expanding elsewhere, there is a strong likelihood that the supply chain will create jobs elsewhere in the world without government support in the form of tax breaks etc. as have been given to the coal, oil and gas industries.

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