Doug Parr: Why we must surf this wave of hope

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As sure as the sun shines and the wind blows, marine renewable energy is part of our industrial future. This is a tide which no amount of nuclear nostalgia can turn back. Wave and tidal energy cuts carbon emissions and boosts energy security, and tidal power is highly dependable. But these technologies have big economic benefits too, and the race is on to be the industry leader.

The UK is uniquely placed to deliver marine renewables. Our wave and tidal stream resources are the envy of the world and we have a strong history in offshore engineering. Many of our dormant shipyards could be brought back into productive use, just as Belfast's Harland & Wolff now serves the offshore wind market.

And the marine renewable potential is huge. A report by the UK's governments, together with technology experts and energy companies, estimated that wave and tidal resources could provide enough energy to power all the homes in London and the South-east twice over. The Carbon Trust calculated the potential for new technologies and found that by taking a bold new approach to the commercialisation of marine renewables the UK could generate up to £70bn and almost 250,000 jobs, and that Britain was positioned to become the "natural owner" of the global wave-power market.

But these economic advantages will not fall into the UK's lap. South Korea is investing heavily in tidal stream power; and the first commercial wave farm was deployed a few years ago in Portugal. The machines were made in the UK, but Portugal made no secret of its desire to lead in wave power.

So, the UK must invest heavily in R&D, maintain strong deployment incentives, and support pre- commercial prototypes. Not all projects will succeed, but a few failures are the price paid to be in the running for a serious payoff. If we don't invest, others will – and they'll reap the rewards.

It is easy to think the UK can do little to halt climate change because we are a small part of the global picture. But we can lead by example, developing renewable energy sources that can be deployed around the world and developing a thriving export market. By investing in this sector, the Government can help to rebalance the economy, boost manufacturing and create genuine wealth and jobs. Oh, and save the world.

Doug Parr is chief scientist at Greenpeace UK

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