British sea power

Government plans to scope out English and Welsh waters for their potential to host wave and tidal energy devices is seen as long overdue by some in the marine energy sector.





The scheme was announced by Lord Philip Hunt, the minister of state at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, on 30 April at the British Wind Energy conference in Bath.


‘The marine energy sector has reached a pivotal stage with more and more devices ready to go into the water,’ he said. ‘The screening exercise in English and Welsh waters is a significant step forward in our plans to harness the power of our seas and secure a renewable and low carbon energy supply.’


The UK is often seen as perfectly suited, geographically, for marine energy devices. The country is exposed to Atlantic waves built up over thousands of miles of ocean. The interaction between the Atlantic and the North Sea, the Irish Sea and the English Channel, and many other constrained passages between islands and mainland, create powerful tides and tonnes of high-speed water flow four times a day.


Of the many wave and tidal energy device companies, none have fully commercialised their technology and connected it to the National Grid in England or Wales. There are devices currently connected to the grid in Northern Ireland and Scotland.


The discrepancy, some in the marine energy sector believe, is due to government not putting enough attention or funding toward wave or tidal projects throughout the UK.


‘There hasn’t been a prioritisation of marine energy,’ said Max Carcas, business development director at Pelamis Wave Power, the Scottish company behind the Pelamis Wave Energy Converter, which was installed off the coast of Portugal last September.


‘There has been lots of talk about money allocated, but when you actually look at the amount of money spent on wave power since 1998 it’s about seven million pounds.’


Carcas estimated that in this time the UK would have spent billions on electricity. ‘Marine energy is something that could provide a quarter or one-fifth of our electricity needs,’ he added.


The need for energy derived from clean sources such as marine is more pressing as the government recently announced plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 34 per cent between 2018 and 2020.


With that in mind, Carcas said the government should have unveiled plans to scope out the potential for marine energy projects in England and Wales a lot sooner.


‘The crucial thing that is often overlooked in government policies is time and anything that can be done to shorten timescales is going to be an advantage,’ he added. ‘If you think back to the Second World War, if we felt we needed a Spitfire we built a Spitfire, because the need was important. Arguably, climate change is an equal imperative to deal with.’


Even though it has taken longer than many wanted, Pelamis and others in the marine energy sector still welcome the government’s effort. Trident Energy, based in Essex, said it can only help as they begin to trial a new electromagnetic marine energy device off the coast of Suffolk this year.


‘We are well aware of the massive potential for wave energy around English and Welsh waters, so any government support can only be a positive thing for the industry as a whole,’ said Steve Packard, chief executive of Trident Energy.