Government unveils marine energy zone in Scotland

The marine renewables industry will receive a boost today as the UK government launches Scotland’s first designated marine energy zone.

Energy and climate change minister Greg Barker will officially launch the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Marine Energy Park with the aim of attracting companies and investment to the area’s growing tidal and wave energy sector.

The park will include the established European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), which is testing a range of marine devices from UK and foreign developers in waters that have some of the greatest potential for marine energy generating in the country.

‘There are more full-scale devices in the sea here than at any other single site in the world and the new Marine Energy Park further cements the UK’s global-leading position in wave and tidal renewables,’ said EMEC managing director Neil Kermode via email.

‘The Marine Energy Park will support the developers coming to test here, spurring further investment and growth in the industry, and enable the Highland and Islands, and the rest of the UK, to harness the significant economic benefit that is already being realised in Orkney.’

The Pentland Firth and Orkney waters have some of the highest potential for harnessing marine energy in the UK, particularly with tidal stream devices.

‘Up to 60 per cent of the [practical] tidal energy is between Scotland and the Orkney Islands — that’s one of the key hotspots,’ said Stephen Wyatt, head of technology acceleration at the Carbon Trust, speaking to journalists before the launch.

Companies including Scottish Power and E.ON have so far won rights to deploy commercial marine energy devices at 11 sites in the area, which could generate a total of 1.6GW of renewable electricity — enough to meet the needs of up to three quarters of a million homes.

The UK’s first marine energy park was launched off the coast of Cornwall in south-west England at the start of this year.

Wave and tidal have the potential to generate up to 20 per cent of the UK’s energy needs, although a more realistic estimate would be 11 per cent or 13GW by 2050, said Wyatt.

‘We think that wave and tidal energy combined can create around 26,000 jobs here in the UK,’ he said. ‘It can provide £3bn gross value add to the UK economy and there’s a bigger export opportunity as well: about £8bn.’

According to the Carbon Trust, the UK is developing 46 marine energy devices, far more than any other country in the world, and has eight at the full-scale demonstration stage.

However, it will cost £40m to £50m to develop per device to deploy these later-stage technologies in farms and prove their durability, and the government will need to spend hundreds of millions of pounds if it wants to create a sustainable marine energy industry, according to Wyatt.