UK government to fathom depth of marine energy potential
A new government-commissioned study is to examine the full energy potential of English and Welsh waters, as part of ongoing efforts to accelerate the development and deployment of wave and tidal generation technologies.
The new study, which will be carried out by environmental consultancies AEA and Hartley Anderson, will seek input from developers, utilities and small businesses about how and where they plan to install marine renewable energy projects.
Speaking at the British Wind Energy Agency (BWEA) tidal and wave conference earlier today, energy minister Lord Hunt said the study marked a “significant step forward” in the government’s plans to bolster the UK’s marine energy sector, adding that it came at “a pivotal stage” for the emerging industry as growing numbers of firms deliver devices that are ready to be deployed.
“The screening exercise will allow us to better understand the energy potential of marine energy devices and the realistic timescale of when multiple devices will be installed and commissioned,” he said.
The government said that the results of the preliminary study will be used to decide whether or not a full-scale Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) is required for English and Welsh waters, in addition to the SEAs that have already been carried out off the coast of Scotland and in the Severn Estuary.
However, the Renewable Energy Association (REA) expressed disappointment at the move, arguing that there was no need for a screening exercise and that a full SEA should be given the go-ahead straight away. “It’s good that government seems to recognise the need for an SEA but we’d rather have heard that the work was actually going to start,” said Steph Merry, head of marine renewable energy at the REA. “The screening exercise is an unfortunate delay and the timescale needs to be expedited.”
Scientists and engineers have long argued that the UK has some of the richest marine energy resources in the world, and the country is already home to a number of the world’s leading marine energy firms.
Previous studies have suggested that tidal technologies in the Severn Estuary could generate five per cent of the UK’s electricity, while Scottish first minister Alex Salmond recently delivered a high-profile commitment to make Scotland the “Saudi Arabia of marine energy”.
The REA said that under present English and Welsh rules The Crown Estate, which manages UK marine resources, will only grant short-term leases for demonstration projects no larger than 10MW, effectively blocking larger developments. In contrast, the Scottish government has followed its SEA by opening bidding in the Penland Firth for tidal devices up to 300MW in size.
“An SEA would make a huge difference to the development of commercial-scale wet renewables in England and Wales,” said Merry. “The UK is currently a world leader in the development of wave and tidal stream devices. It is imperative that we keep hold of that lead in order to meet our renewable energy targets and to ensure jobs and investment in UK manufacturing now and in the future.”
A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said that there was no fixed date for a report, but that the screening exercise would take about six months.