The Future of Marine Renewables in the UK - Energy and Climate Change Contents

2 Potential benefits of wave and tidal power

7.  One of the aims of our inquiry was to identify the potential benefits that wave and tidal power could bring to the UK. In this section we provide a summary of the potential rewards associated with developing marine renewables.

A large domestic resource

8.  The UK has the largest wave and tidal resource in Europe. This is a result of the UK's exposure to Atlantic winds (which boost the wave resource) and the existence of a number of headlands and islands, which concentrate tidal flows.

9.  Various attempts have been made to estimate the size of the resource that is available in the UK. Estimations of the practical wave resource range from 40-50TWh per year (for comparison, a total of 381TWh of electricity was generated in the UK in 2010). The practical tidal stream resource has been estimated at 116TWh but a more recent assessment of the practical and economic resource produced a lower figure of 21TWh per year. [9] In total, the Carbon Trust believes that practical and economic sources of wave and tidal power could provide 20% of current UK electricity demand.[10]

10.  Although the potential resource is large, it may be years or even decades before the technology is sufficiently advanced to be able to harness significant levels of this energy economically. Potential deployment levels and timescales are discussed in more detail in paragraphs 37-42.

Energy security

11.  Marine renewables could benefit energy security by reducing the UK's reliance on imported fuels. Tidal stream has the additional benefit of providing a predictable output that is not dependent on the weather. This could be extremely valuable in a system that also contains intermittent sources of generation, such as wind.[11]

12.  Although wave power is driven by the wind there could nevertheless be some energy security benefits associated with this technology too. This is because wave power is less variable from hour-to-hour than wind energy and can be forecast several days in advance. Wave power can also sometimes be out of phase with offshore wind since waves generated in the mid-Atlantic travel more slowly towards the land than the pressure fronts themselves. Finally, there is a good match between the availability of wave energy and seasonal electricity demand.[12]

Carbon savings

13.  Wave and tidal stream are renewable forms of energy and therefore could make a significant contribution towards the UK's long term climate change objectives.[13] DECC told us that "by 2050, for a high deployment scenario of 27GW installed capacity, wave and tidal stream technologies could save 61Mt of CO2" (for comparison, total emissions from the power sector in 2010 were 156 MtCO2e).[14] The Engineering Institutions told us that this was a reasonable estimate.[15]

Economic benefits

14.  The establishment of a new marine energy industry could bring economic benefits for the UK. The Carbon Trust has recently estimated that the global market for marine could be worth £340 billion (in 2050) and that the UK's share of this could be worth £76 billion.[16] The industry estimates that there could be 10,000 direct jobs in 2020 and the Carbon Trust has estimated that there could be as many as 68,000 UK-based jobs by 2050.[17]

15.  Many witnesses highlighted the potential for export opportunities in the future. There is increasing interest in marine renewables around the world, with markets beginning to emerge in Canada, USA, Korea and New Zealand (among others). There is scope for supplying physical components of marine devices to these other markets, as well as providing specialist skills and expertise (such as offshore surveying and contracting, and environmental management).[18]

16.  We heard numerous pleas to heed the lessons of the UK's experience in developing wind power technology in the 1980s. Although the UK was at one point a leader in terms of research and testing of wind turbines, it failed to establish a domestic wind turbine manufacturing industry and therefore was unable to capture many economic benefits. Denmark, on the other hand, supported its domestic wind power industry through the early adoption of Feed in Tariffs and emerged with almost 40% of the wind turbine market in 2003.[19] The Renewable Energy Association said:

Denmark is the undisputed leader of the modern wind energy industry and lessons must be learned from this success if the UK is to capitalise on its current stronghold in marine renewable energy. Early political vision in Denmark, including consistent financial support mechanisms and priority grid access, provided security for private investors to develop wind energy on a commercial basis. […] With similar vision and structured political support, the potential of the marine renewables industry could be captured in the UK.[20]

9   A practical resource takes technical and physical constraints (such as world heritage sites or shipping lanes) into consideration. Economic resource considers the available energy which can be exploited at a cost considered to be economic.

The Offshore Valuation Group, The Offshore Valuation: A valuation of the UK's offshore renewable energy resource, 2010

Carbon Trust, Accelerating marine energy, July 2011

DECC and Ofgem, Statutory Security of Supply report, November 2011, p 9 Back

10   Ev 82  Back

11   Ev 58, 62, 78, 91, 99, w16, w32, w52, w78, w85, 88, w91, w100, w102 Back

12   Ev 78, 91, w85, w107 Back

13   Ev w45, w52, w107  Back

14   Ev 42; DECC, The Carbon Plan: Delivering our low carbon future, December 2011 p 69 Back

15   Ev w91  Back

16   Ev 82 Back

17   RenewableUK, SeaPower: funding the marine energy industry 2011-2015, March 2011; Carbon Trust, Accelerating marine energy, 2011; Q 184 Back

18   Ev 42, 53, 62, 78, 88, 99, w1, w24 ,w29, w32, w39, w45, w58, w49, w81, w83, w85, w97, w100, w102, w107 Back

19   Ev 53, 62, 71, 78, 91, w29, w43, w45, w85, w91, w100, w102,  Back

20   Ev w 85 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 19 February 2012