Britain must act fast to rule wave-power world

UK's marine energy firms will be left trailing in their rivals' wake unless ministers take more visionary approach, MPs warn

A A A

Britain's dream of leading the world in harnessing the power of the sea is in danger of being sunk by risk-averse, under-ambitious policymakers who are letting foreign rivals dominate a multibillion-pound industry. An influential Commons committee warns that without a "more visionary" approach from ministers and officials, the development of wave and tidal technology will stall and other countries will steal a march on British firms.

Experts believe that up to 20 per cent of the UK's electricity could one day come from devices deployed around the coastline. But the technology is still in its infancy, and a report today from the Energy and Climate Change Committee warns that Britain could cede its pioneering status to other countries unless ministers intervene.

Click HERE to view graphic

"Britannia really could rule the waves when it comes to marine renewable energy," said Tim Yeo, the Tory MP who chairs the committee. "We are extremely well placed to lead the world in wave and tidal technologies, which could bring significant benefits in manufacturing and jobs, as well an abundant supply of reliable, low-carbon electricity."

But there are fears of history repeating itself. Britain once led the world in wind-power technology, but was leapfrogged by Denmark, which offered financial backing through feed-in tariffs and saw its industry grow dramatically to become the world's leading supplier of turbines.

The Government has a target for 200-300MW of marine capacity by 2020. It is estimated that by 2050 the industry could be worth £340bn worldwide, with Britain potentially able to claim a £76bn share with the creation of 68,000 jobs. The UK has the largest wave and tidal resource in Europe. Unlike wind or solar, wave power is less variable from hour to hour and can be forecast days in advance. There is also a good match between periods of high production and seasonal electricity demand.

The committee raises doubts about the level of public funding available for marine renewables and the way it is administered. The Department for Energy and Climate Change has created a £20m fund and the Scottish Government has £18m available. London and Edinburgh are urged to work together closely to pool the cash, so developers are not forced to bid twice for small pots of money.

At present the cost of generating electricity from a wave farm is around four times that of an onshore wind farm. Stephen Wyatt, head of technology accelerator at the Carbon Trust, said: "Accelerating the pace of cost reduction further will require greater levels of innovation support for the industry."

The select committee took evidence from scientists, industry leaders, environmentalists and ministers. Its report says the absence of ambitious long-term targets for the deployment of marine renewables is hampering investor confidence, and suggests significant public sector investment will be needed. The costs of wave and tidal power schemes are expected to fall by 2020 to a level that makes it commercially viable.

Better connections to the national grid will also be needed, along with a commitment to developing the engineering skills needed to make the industry a global success.

Using the sea to generate power has long been a dream for environmentalists but the development of viable equipment has had a chequered history. In 2008, an "inverted windmill" was lowered into the mouth of Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland; it was the first device of its kind in the world, heralding hopes of a sea-power revolution. Other trials followed. Of the eight tidal and wave trials worldwide, seven are taking place in Britain. Most are around the Orkneys, where the European Marine Energy-testing Centre is located. Other key sites include Strangford Lough and north Cornwall, which is expected to become a key test bed for leading companies.

In 2010 the coalition pulled the plug on the idea of a 10-mile, £30bn barrage across the Severn estuary, arguing it was a one-off project which would not be replicated elsewhere, limiting the export opportunities. Last month ministers announced plans for the South-west to become the UK's first Marine Energy Park, placing it at the forefront of the technology's development.

It is hoped scientists, engineers and surveyors will flock to the region. Similar parks are planned for Scotland and Northern Ireland but the move from one-off tests to the deployment of large-scale, commercially viable arrays of devices could be years off.

Dr Gordon Edge, policy director of the industry body RenewableUK, said marine energy is now "on the threshold of commercial viability" and the report paves the way for it to become "a major part of our electricity generation system". But he warned: "We can't afford to have innovation and manufacturing in hi-tech industries go overseas."

The technology giant Siemens announced last week it was taking over the tidal developer Marine Current Turbines. Ted Scheidegger, head of the solar and hydro division of Siemens Energy, said: "We will continue to drive the commercialisation of this promising technology which harvests energy from highly predictable tidal streams. Our target is to secure a leading position in this future business."

The Department for Energy and Climate Change claimed to be "fully committed to spurring on the growth of this industry", but Labour's Caroline Flint claimed that since the coalition was formed, the UK has slipped from third to 13th in the world for green investment. "Marine energy can help make us less reliant on volatile fossil fuel prices and keep energy bills down, cut our carbon emissions and create new jobs and industries in the UK. But we need to move quickly to cement our advantage and stop this opportunity slipping through our fingers," she said.

The Government is under growing pressure to set out a vision for Britain's future energy use. Onshore wind farms, like nuclear power stations, continue to attract vociferous opposition, and more than 100 Tory MPs have written to David Cameron this month demanding "dramatic cuts" to the industry's £400m-a-year subsidies. The solar industry was thrown into turmoil last year when the Department for Energy and Climate Change pulled the plug on funding for generous feed-in tariffs paid to home owners and businesses who installed solar panels.

A carbon capture and storage project at a coal-fired power station at Longannet in Scotland was abandoned after its backers failed to reach a deal with power companies. It is understood ministers will shortly announce a new pilot, this time aimed at removing carbon emissions from a gas-powered plant.

Suggested Topics
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Advisor - Automotive Parts

£16400 - £17500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading online E-commerce ...

Recruitment Genius: Automotive Parts Manager

£27300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a leading...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Customer Service Advisor

£22000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading boiler ...

Recruitment Genius: International Customer Service Administrators

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea