Wave and tidal power need support, say MPs

Artist's impression of proposed Skerries Tidal Stream Array Schemes such as the Skerries Tidal Stream Array off Anglesey give the UK "a global lead"

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The government should increase support for wave and tidal power to preserve the UK's global leadership, say MPs.

The Energy and Climate Change Committee says the UK had in the past lost its early lead on wind power through lack of support, and must not make the same mistake again on marine energy.

Its report recommends increasing funding and improving links between UK and Scottish programmes.

The Carbon Trust recently said marine power could create 10,000 jobs by 2020.

By 2050, it said, the global market could be worth £340bn, with the UK claiming about one-fifth of the business.

And with the UK possessing seven out of the eight large-scale prototypes deployed anywhere in the world, it was well-placed to lead the global race, the MPs said.

Start Quote

The government would be mad to miss this boat”

End Quote Nick Molho WWF-UK

"In the 1980s the UK squandered the lead it had in wind power development, and now Denmark has a large share of the worldwide market in turbine manufacturing," said Tim Yeo MP, the committee's chairman.

"It should be a priority for the government to ensure that the UK remains at the cutting edge of developments in this technology and does not allow our lead to slip."

Electricity demand

The committee's report, The Future of Marine Renewables in the UK, included an examination of tidal stream generators, where devices such as big rotors are turned by the incoming and outgoing tides, but excluded barrage technologies such as the mooted Severn Barrage, which tend to be much more expensive and can cause big ecological problems.

It has been estimated that wave and tidal technologies could supply about one-fifth of the UK's current electricity demand, and many other nations are becoming interested, in particular the Nordic countries, South Korea and China.

But currently they are expensive - about five times the price of onshore wind, for example.

As with other new technologies, the government expects costs to fall dramatically once devices and installation become standardised.

La Rance tidal barrage La Rance barrage, opened in 1966, was until recently the world's biggest tidal power facility

But there is little chance of marine power making a major contribution by 2020.

The government recently reduced its estimate of the 2020 contribution from 1-2 gigawatts (GW) to 200-300 MW, and the committee says that should be looked at again, as several industry experts have said the new target can be met easily.

The size of the UK funding pot for marine renewables, at £20m, should also be re-examined, they say. And deployment of that money should be co-ordinated better with the Scottish government, which has a separate £18m budget.

The level of subsidy companies receive up to 2017 is secure, the MPs say - but longer-term clarity is needed in order to give investors confidence.

David Clarke, chief executive of the Energy Technologies Institute, a government-industry collaboration, said time was of the essence.

"The marine renewables industry must demonstrate its ability to be cost-competitive, compared with other low-carbon technologies, in the next 5-8 years if it is to engage commercial investors," he said.

"If it doesn't, other technologies will be built as alternatives; investors will feel more assurance in them and see more opportunity for return."

With projects such as Marine Current Turbines' tidal generator in Strangford Lough showing the technologies can work with no discernible impact on local ecology, the next step will be to build arrays of several connected devices; but each array would cost around £40-50m, the committee heard, meaning current levels of support could be inadequate.

Another recommendation from the committee is that with many of the best sites in remote locations around northern and western Scotland and in the Orkneys and Shetlands, finance for grid connection needs ramping up.

'Fully committed'

Environment groups who have long bemoaned the slow pace of development on wave and tidal power endorsed the committee's recommendations.

"This report is a great reminder of the massive potential of marine renewables in the UK," said Nick Molho, head of energy policy at WWF-UK.

"Investment certainty holds the key to reducing the costs of marine renewable and creating jobs; the government would be mad to miss this boat."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said the government welcomed the report and was studying its recommendations.

"We are fully committed to spurring on the growth of this industry and have already taken great strides to make this happen," she said.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    261 33ten ....compress..
    262 Prudeboy...efficiency..

    After electrolysis you could just store the uncompressed gasses in gas bags for the short time needed before being burned. But I would not put such things near populated areas. There are alternatives such as water filled flywheels that are directly spun up by the tide. Just a matter of using our inventiveness in an economically viable way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    Wow. Read the comments and cannot believe the levels of understanding. Maybe the BBC could do us, the licence payer, a favour, commission a programme with factual content about the true cost of the programmes we are engaged upon. As an example, show whether wind power is a myth, (as I have been led to believe), or, salvation. Today - we just seem to speculate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    262. prudeboy

    Sad but true – Most people have little understanding of the science involved and don’t bother reading any scientific journals but are happy to base their “facts” on other peoples opinions regardless how delusional.

    Here’s one, build a 5 mile high windmills in the mid Atlantic, very windy and no one can see it…

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    We have the strongest tides and the waviest seas in Europe, our government only invests £20m or so in looking to utilise this abundant and consistant energy source, yet they're willing to throw BILLIONS at nuclear and still can't give any answers as to what to do with the toxic waste and who'll pay for decommissioning, or any accidents.
    Are they corrupt in some way, or just too thick to describe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    Nuclear is a total rip off, wind farms are better, tidal is brilliant and solar very good. So what do the Tories do sign up for nuclear, senseless, dumb and dangerous, typical Tory!

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    what happens when a whale swims into one of those under water blades.

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    Why does it have to be either/or. Surely we should be looking to extract energy wherever we can. All new houses should be built with ground source heat pumps, photovoltaic roof tiles and solar water heating. We should have wind turbines for when its windy and solar power stations for when its sunny, plus methods or storage like the pumped storage lakes in wales. All backed up by tidal power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    4. monkeypuzzletree, 74. ravenmorpheus2k, 91. Malt et al:
    I suspect that the issue is associated with most of us living in cities. Wind power does not work in cities. Tides and waves can go unnoticed in cities. The geography of the UK (apart from transport links) is largely irrelevant in cities. The most important issue in cities is money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    #264. Robin

    I thought the reason thorium was considered safe was that it was not possible to make a bomb out of it.
    But the reactors are still dirty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    251. Math Man
    When surrounded by water one thing you can do with electricty is split the H2O up by electrolisis
    Algae bio-reactors would be a better source of hydrogen, but you'd still encounter the storage issues. There are some low pressure storage solutions but they are years from being commercially viable. It's still something worth investigating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    #257 Wilem
    "tap solar energy currently bypassing Earth"

    Orbiting solar power stations beaming microwaves to antennae in deserts.
    . Problems?
    Lifting that much mass (though we could get it from the Moon or asteroids) and the need for a pemanent space infrastructure for the crews.
    Practical engineeringif you are willing to spend the money, but alas;"No bucks, no Buck Rogers"

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    Tidal power has a lot of potential but it is very expensive and has a lot of environmental and social impact. Therefore schemes like the Severn barrage get bogged down in public consultation for years and finally get ditched. Without Government finance and political backing they will never get off the ground. Westminster is in love with Nuclear and billions shall go to France..

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    I'm all for alternative energy, we simply must move away from our reliance on fossil fuels. However, the effects of building huge structures in the sea on the surrounding ecosystems need to be thoroughly researched before this is implemented on a large scale.
    And personally I feel the cost effectiveness of tidal power is so small that money would be better spent on solar energy research.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    Regardless of the safety concerns over nuclear energy, no one actually knows weather it is more or less financially viable than any other form of energy production because we have yet to come up with a permanent way of dealing with the end of the production cycle. All waste storage is temporary. The final cost is completely unknown. The nuclear lobby manage to dodge this fact very well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    @ 264.Robin

    100% agree. Thorium breeder reactors are the way forward. The technology is already developed, its cheap, safe and can easily provide for all our energy requirements. China is heavily investing in Th for exactly these reasons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    In answer to comment 36, Matt, Put your brain into gear first mate.
    Go and ask the Japanese, the Russians and residents of 3 mile Island etc. There's massive cost with Nuclear energy. Yes, clean and efficient when nothing is going wrong, but if something goes wrong it's big problems. Clean energy is initially costly but more money into more research will make it cheaper and more efficient.

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    I think we should invest the money in thorium while it's cheap. As soon as they figure out an easy way to scrub one unfortunate by product the price may go sky high. A thorium reactor is so wondefully fail safe, to switch it off you simply stop pumping the molten thorium through the reactor and allow it to freeze. By product, molten thorium, hydrogen monoxide pollution, someone will complain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    I used to sail in the Bristol channel (2nd highest tidal range in the world). Tide there is fast and guaranteed, twice a day. Forget barrages - too much eco' damage. Put turbines, around the coast, well below the surface. The costs come down with research, commitment and scale. Forget wind - too much NIMBYism and not enough wind. Solar - ok, put on every new house, and give grants for older.

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    #251. Math Man

    Hydrogen is about the least efficient way of storing energy.
    Factor in inefficiencies due to the electrolysis over potential as well as water treatment and storage practicalities such as embrittlement and you soon realize it is a non starter.

    Politicians love it of course because it appeals to non scientific voters - who happen to be the majority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    251. Math Man

    Great idea, if we could economically compress and store the oxygen and hydrogen, but I’m not sure that I would want to live any where near such storage, a bit volatile…


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