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Economic growth from renewable energy

The Technology Strategy Board’s Catapult programme has created seven technology and innovation centres where technical and commercial knowledge will help the very best UK businesses, scientists and engineers build on research and development - transforming ideas and early stage work into viable products and services. They will transform the UK’s innovation capability for the long term and represent over £1bn of private and public sector investment over the next few years.

 The Catapult programme comes from the UK Government approaching innovation in a way that hasn’t been done for many years. It recognises that we have a world-class domestic industrial base, small and medium sized businesses and academia. But historically we have not been good at joining up the parts to realise their full potential.

I head up the Glasgow-based Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, helping the UK seize the opportunity to lead the world in offshore wind, wave and tidal electricity production. In the process we will generate substantial economic growth, jobs and exports, and help the country increase low-carbon, affordable generation.

hydro-electric wave energy

The costs of wave energy converters, such as this Oyster unit on test at EMEC in Orkney, are reducing

The ORE Catapult is a critical element of a shared vision in which government, industry and the supply chain all have vital roles to play. There is a need to learn commercial lessons from other sectors, such as the offshore oil and gas, aerospace and automotive industries, and deliver consistent, joined up thinking to provide investor confidence and maximise installed offshore renewable energy capacity and the resulting economic, social and environmental benefits.

We are a wind-battered island, so clearly offshore renewable energy is one of the key tools for the UK to meet its carbon reduction targets. But the Government is clear: today’s cost of offshore power needs to be reduced substantially, by approximately 30-40% by 2020 in the case of offshore wind.

Twenty years ago, we led the world in the development of onshore renewable energy technology. A failure to invest in the industry at that time meant that other countries overtook us and to this day they dominate the global market.

The UK has the world’s largest targets for offshore wind. That affords us the first mover opportunity to lead the world in offshore renewable energy technology deployment and know-how, potentially creating an industry that will not only generate tens of thousands of jobs in engineering, manufacturing, installation, maintenance and operations services, but also contribute many billions of pounds to the UK economy in taxes and exports, possibly of the electricity itself, but particularly of the technologies and engineering know-how that go with it.

We have a massive opportunity to build a world-leading capability, just as the oil and gas sector has done over the past few decades.

Renewable energy is still relatively new, with challenges around costs, and that applies particularly to offshore. However, solving this is achievable by allowing innovation to thrive – focusing on common standards, scale on manufacturing and delivery.

The ORE Catapult works closely with academia and companies from manufacturers and owners of power plants to small businesses - to de-risk innovation and have it adopted more quickly. We are creating a centre of excellence with deep technological and engineering expertise, and are recruiting over 100 experienced engineers and technologists over the next couple of years, people with knowledge of what it takes to get a project or a technology to market.

We will not be issuing capital grants, but will provide leadership, access and connectivity, engineering and technical expertise, to assist the growth and development of technical solutions.

I’m clear we have a huge role to play in enabling the entire UK offshore renewables sector - wind, wave and tidal - to realise its full economic potential.

Mr Jamieson is the CEO of the ORE Catapult. More information can be downloaded from here.


Readers' comments (3)

  • Everybody seems to forget that the objective is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, not to develop renewable energy technologies regardless of cost and complication. If reducing carbon dioxide is the objective, nuclear power does it is better and cheaper.

    My friend Prof Norman Bellamy of Coventry University was a pioneer in wave power in the 1980s. Several of the concepts he developed and abandoned are now being rejuvenated entirely because of the huge subsidies available. But it does not alter the fact that they are fundamentally impractical and uneconomic.

    He is now developing a radically different device (sea wave) that, if the final technical problems can be overcome, will make all other wave power devices obsolete overnight.

    Regarding tidal current power, the weight of the devices compared to the output is huge. As most of this is steel, the cost is very high and it cannot be substantially reduced.

    But no one should forget that the lack of global warming over the last 17 years proves that man-made carbon dioxide does not cause dangerous global warming. In fact, the biggest risk facing the world at the moment is global cooling.

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  • Helge Lund, Statoil's CEO, says. “Those who argue that we should stop exploring and harvesting existing fields, and block new opportunities are, at best, preparing for a future that doesn’t exist. Today’s share of fossil fuels in the global energy mix is 82%, the same as it was 25 years ago. The strong rise of renewables only reduces this to around 75% in 2035."
    http://dailyfusion.net/2013/11/statoil-ceo-we-have-to-live-with-fossil-fuels-as-the-dominant-part-of-the-energy-mix-25237/

    No doubt, many captains of industry and politicians agree with that dismal prediction, but it is a fatally flawed analysis for four reasons:-

    1) It underestimates the impact of AGW. (little motivation for change)
    2.) It is predicated on commercial expediency. (business as usual)
    3.) The failure of the Hywind project colours Lund's view. (waste of time and money)
    4.) The potential of renewables isn't correctly assessed. (lack of energy storage)

    We must rise above this negative mindset for the sake of future generations. Lund's dystopian vision won't come true, IF we can eliminate 'business as usual' from our engineering R&D set up. The TSB's Catapult programme may claim to be different, but I don't believe it will be.

    "The ORE will: Identify and address the barriers that inhibit the development and application of innovation in the offshore energy sector." The two main barriers to disruptive innovation are all too evident - the incumbent industry opposes it tooth and nail. The government lamely follows their 'advice', because their ideology says new technology must be 'business led'.

    "In January 2014, the ORE Catapult will move into its permanent home in the new Inovo building."

    The Welsh Technium Programme had ten specialist centres in prestigious new premises. Only four are still in operation, the others closed. Ten years and £100m gone and nothing to show for it.

    "In 5 years the ORE Catapult will be the recognised 'go to' institution for the identification, development and rapid commercialisation of innovative technology solutions." Well of course, people will always have faith in 'new initiatives', but the proof of the pudding . . .

    Eleven years ago the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry wrote:-

    "The government's role is one of facilitating a climate for innovation rather than evaluating and funding specific inventions. Patent rights are the property of inventors and it is for patentees themselves to exploit their rights. The market for any invention is determined by commercial factors. Exploitation is for the private sector rather than the government."

    Establishment dogma hasn't changed in half a century - a recipe for economic failure. I don't believe Vince Cable or David Willetts know any better. The only thing that ever changes is the Name of the Department. Nobody even understands WHY intellectual property law is in dire need of radical reform. That was plain to see in the recent debate in the House of Commons.

    "helping the UK seize the opportunity to lead the world in offshore wind, wave and tidal electricity production." But component manufacture is dominated by foreign companies! How do you wrest control away from the people who already lead the world?

    There is only one way to do that; i.e. create a single industry to manufacture all three marine renewables. Why? Because they share so many major components in common. Technically, they are joined at the hip. It's daft to develop each as a niche product in competition with the others.

    "drive standardisation" Yes, absolutely! Mass production slashes unit costs. An array of different composite turbine blades - a patchwork of custom foundations - a range of 2.3MW, 3.6MW, 5MW, 8MW generators - have we taken leave of our senses? On average, a storage-enabled wave/wind farm might use four or five 200MW generators. (Many times that, if it's linked with a tidal barrage.)

    As direct drive pioneers say; “A gearbox that isn’t there is the most reliable gearbox.” - Fort Felker, NREL. A generator that isn't there is the most reliable generator! Slash O&M costs too.

    But HOW do you set up new manufacturing facilities against opposition from all sides? (not least, EU state aid rules!) More than half the supply chain doesn't even exist.

    What do the Pelamis and the Hywind have in common? Neither has reached commercialisation in thirteen years. Both should have been dropped within a year of inception, but they weren't. We can't afford to waste any more time.

    “EWEA has identified 22 GW of consented offshore wind farms in Europe and future plans for offshore wind farms totaling more than 133 GW.”

    Has anyone stopped to think what that means? Without any capability to USE peak wind output WHEN nature provides, each new GW added will have lower revenues AND in turn lower the capacity factors of existing wind farms. It's called curtailment - an essential tool to balance grid operations, but a very wasteful and expensive way to do it.

    The answer is NO - to judge from this EWEA report:-
    http://www.ewea.org/fileadmin/files/library/publications/statistics/European_offshore_statistics_2013.pdf

    Is it a measure of the industry's blind incompetence, that it does not analyse any data on the trends in capacity factors? Or is it the case that they know full well the trend is down and they don't want to publicise such an embarrassing fact?

    The words 'capacity factors' are conspicuous by their absence, but the disingenuous habit of only quoting nameplate capacity further confirms a state of self-delusion.

    So, Andrew Jamieson, are you going to do anything about the insurmountable hurdles?

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  • I wish people would stop saying nuclear is cheap. It is not cheap. As it currently stands Hinkley Point C is MORE expensive than onshore wind and if we add in the cost to the taxpayer of the UK debt guarantee, the UK political guarantee, insurance, security, long term waste disposal it is more expensive than offshore wind.

    http://www.utilityweek.co.uk/news/hinkley-point-c-the-most-expensive-power-station-in-the-world/938262

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/30/hinkley-point-nuclear-power-plant-uk-government-edf-underwrite

    So if renewables look expensive think of the direct subsidy of £1b per year for the next 35years we the taxpayer are handing over to EDF and their Chinese debt providers for Hinkley Point C.

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