Westminster the key to unlocking marine energy potential
1 Mar 11 - Martin McAdam, CEO
The decision by international power conglomerate ABB to invest
£8 million in our Oyster technology last November was a clear
signal by a major multinational of its confidence in the marine
energy sector's global potential. They, like us, can see that
the size of the prize is considerable. We calculate there's a total
usable nearshore resource of at least 600GW. Of this, we are
targetting a minimum of 60GW for commercial exploitation.
That means a market worth as much as £180 billion to our company.
This is revenue that could flow to the UK.
I'm not going to lie to you - making energy from the sea is not
easy. The first patent was lodged by Frenchman Pierre-Simon Girard
in 1799. It was difficult then to harness marine energy and it is
still a challenge - but the UK has a unique place in this
A look at some more recent history can teach us some valuable
lessons. Last year we commissioned The Danish Wind Industry 1980 -2010: Lessons for
the British marine energy industry - a report which looked at
the phenomenal growth in the Danish wind energy sector and why
Britain's industry faltered. Our research showed that consistent,
long-term government support is the key.
Incentivising early development
In the 1970s the 'Salter Duck' was the leading technology of its
day, offering an alternative to costly imported oil. The
discovery of 'black gold' beneath our own North Sea changed this
imperative, and the political will to support marine energy
research dwindled. We offered similar treatment to the early
wind industry. In the 1980s, the UK had a technology lead in wind
turbines - but the Danish Government acted more swiftly than us to
put in place a support mechanism to incentivise small, early
development. The result? The majority of large-scale
turbines in the UK are made overseas, while Denmark has a wind
export market valued at nearly €6 billion in 2008 and green jobs
there count for almost 10% of Denmark's GDP.
The point I am making is that technological success is dependent
on political will. The UK Government supported our oil
industry, and it grew. By the late 1970s previously unimagined
structures were being fabricated and installed in the hostile
waters off our shores. The Danish Government supported wind,
and agricultural crane manufacturer Vestas grew into a major wind
turbine multinational supporting thousands of jobs.
Supportive policies over the last decade have enabled Britain
and Scotland in particular, to become the global leader in marine
energy. The challenge is now to convert this technological
lead into commercial technologies, and build world-beating
export-led companies based here in the UK. Continued support
Overcoming the obstacles
There are many obstacles - not least a lack of grid
infrastructure and common sense consenting processes - but with
concerted political support I believe these can be overcome.
More importantly to my mind, leading companies need capital support
from government in order to leverage significant private sector
investment into the sector.
This requires investment - and successive reports from the
Scottish Government's Marine Energy Group, the UK Government's
Marine Action Plan and trade body RenewableUK all underline that
public sector capital support is the key which will unlock that
investment - and enable companies such as ourselves to prove the
commercial viability of our technologies at scale.
This industry must not be supported to the point at which it
will fail - it must be supported to success. There are
opportunities to support this industry including, for instance from
DECC and the soon to be launched Green Investment Bank, and also
from the unfettered deployment of the £190m Non Fossil Fuel
Obligation levy in Scotland. Other major players such as ABB
will invest in the marine sector in the UK once they see the
continued desire and political support to make this industry a
reality. If other nations choose to make the marine energy a
priority, while we are paralysed to inaction, then I fear that the
opportunity will be lost overseas. This must not happen.
SSE and ABB have already shown that there is appetite to invest
in marine energy. Now is the time for government at
Westminster to continue their support and help build the
Read our report ''The Danish wind industry 1980-2010: lessons
for the British marine energy industry" in the Resource