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
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
musicBest exclusives coming to an independent record shop near you this Record Store Day
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit