barriers to the development of marine renewables |
79. In this section we consider the non-financial
barriers to the development of wave and tidal energy that were
identified during the course of our inquiry.
80. The best wave and tidal resources lie in
some of the most remote parts of the UK, which tend to be areas
with very little access to the high-voltage transmission grid.
If marine renewables are ever to make a significant contribution
to the UK's energy system, it is clear that investment in grid
infrastructure will be needed in order to allow electricity to
be transported from wave and tidal generation sites to end consumers.
81. The Government acknowledged that grid availability
is a potential barrier to large-scale deployment of marine renewables.
However it also pointed out that, although the small scale deployments
expected in the next few years will probably connect to the low-voltage
distribution network, work was already underway to accommodate
higher levels of deployment onto the high-voltage grid in 2020.
82. The availability of grid
connections will be a critical factor in determining the future
of wave and tidal power in the UK. We welcome DECC's acknowledgement
of this and urge the Department to ensure that investment in new
grid connections keeps pace with development of the industry.
83. The transmission charging regime was also
highlighted as a concern. Under the current arrangements, higher
charges are levied for generators that are located further from
the main centres of demand. This means that wave and tidal generators
situated in remote areas like North Scotland will have to pay
some of the highest charges for using the national grid (in the
case of Orkney, this is compounded by the need to pay an additional
charge for a link to the mainland).
Witnesses told us that high transmission charges may impede the
development of the industry.
84. At the time of taking evidence, the regulator
Ofgem was in the process of assessing the current charging regime,
to consider whether it is still suitable given the changing nature
of the generation mix and the challenges of decarbonising the
Witnesses to our inquiry were hopeful that the outcome of
this review would improve the situation for wave and tidal.
On 20 December 2011, Ofgem published its initial findings, which
recommended incrementally changing the current approach rather
than moving to a "socialised cost" model, where all
generators would pay a uniform charge, regardless of type and
is due to conclude its consultation and make a final recommendation
in Spring 2012.
85. A further problem for marine energy is the
requirement for generators to underwrite the cost of new grid
connections (that is, generators who wish to connect to the transmission
system are liable to pay the cost of building the grid connection
in the event that their projects to build new power plants are
One particular hurdle that we have encountered in
relation to our activities in the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters,
is the fact that we are required to accept the full liabilities
for the cost of building the additional capacity in the event
that a generating asset is not connected to the transmission network.
Given the nascent and unproven nature of commercial wave and tidal
arrays, accepting this level of risk is incredibly challenging
for project developers and their investors.
86. Two potential solutions to this problem were
proposed. The first was for developers to form consortia and apply
collectively for grid connections, which would allow any associated
liability to be shared between all of the members rather than
being borne by a single company.
The second proposal was for Government to take on some or all
of the underwriting liability.
87. Requirements on the industry
to underwrite the cost of new grid connections place an excessive
burden on individual developers. DECC should use the Marine Energy
Programme Board to explore opportunities for establishing consortia
that could collectively underwrite new links. If this approach
is unsuccessful, DECC may need to consider the case for Government
taking on this liability.
Planning and consenting
88. Many witnesses to the inquiry were concerned
that complex and costly licensing processes could hinder the development
of marine renewables. To some extent, this is an unknown quantity
since no large-scale projects have yet gone through the consenting
process and so there is no experience on which to judge the likely
speed of the process.
The industry is keen for the process to be as streamlined as possible.
Several witnesses noted the "one-stop-shop" approach
adopted by Marine Scotland and suggested that other UK marine
licencing bodies could consider following this example.
ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING REQUIREMENTS
89. Wave and tidal energy could be damaging to
marine wildlife in UK waters. For example, wildlife could collide
with the devices, habitats might be lost or damaged, migration
routes could be blocked and construction will result in noise
and vibrations, which may have adverse consequences for wildlife.
Since the technology is still very novel, there is still
a great deal of uncertainty about how likely or severe these impacts
will be. In addition, data about marine wildlife in UK waters
is far from comprehensive, which means it is difficult to know
which locations would be the most sensitive to wave and tidal
developments and which might be less affected.
90. Marine licensing authorities have taken different
approaches to monitoring requirements in different parts in the
UK. In some places a stringent "precautionary" approach
has been taken while others have set a more flexible "deploy
and monitor" type of requirement.
We were not surprised to hear that conservation groups tended
to favour the precautionary approach, while some industry groups
argued that this was too onerous and could result in significant
costs to developers, potentially to the extent that the financial
viability of projects was threatened.
91. The RSPB suggested a "middle way"
in which particularly sensitive sites were identified "up-front"
through a systematic survey of marine wildlife and were then excluded
from further development (under the EU Habitats Directive, marine
renewables developments should not cause long-term or irreparable
damage to existing sites or species of national or international
environmental importance). A "deploy and monitor" approach
could then be used for developments in other areas. Such a survey
could be targeted in the first instance on areas that are of strategic
interest to the industry in order to keep costs down.
The RSPB argued that this kind of approach would have benefits
for the industry because "the locations of important sites
for internationally important species will be known, avoiding
scenarios where they are found during baseline monitoring, which
significantly delayed the London Array offshore windfarm".
The industry would also support a "pan-industry" approach
to environmental assessments to allow developers to focus on an
area in the sea that they could all work on.
92. The development of wave
and tidal energy must not happen at the expense of marine biodiversity.
Because of the lack of data about marine wildlife in UK waters,
developers may only discover that an area is environmentally sensitive
late in the development process, leading to costly changes in
plans. Identifying potentially sensitive areas in advance of leasing
rounds would avoid this risk and reassure conservation organisations
that the deployment of marine renewables will not threaten marine
flora and fauna. We recommend that DECC cooperates with the industry
and other interested stakeholders to deliver a baseline survey
of areas of strategic interest, in advance of any further leasing
rounds. The Marine Energy Programme Board would provide a good
forum for this discussion. In addition, an agreement is needed
on the criteria that would be used to determine whether a particular
area was too environmentally sensitive to allow development. This
could be drawn up by an independent body of expert marine scientists,
like the Science Advisory Panel for the Marine Conservation Zones,
supported by relevant statutory bodies, such as the Joint Nature
Conservation Committee, Natural England and the Marine Management
Organisation. This body could also have the power to review whether
criteria have been appropriately applied when disputes emerge.
93. The lack of people following careers in scientific
and engineering disciplines in the UK could potentially threaten
the successful development of the wave and tidal workforces.
We heard that the problem was particularly acute at the Further
Education level; EMEC told us "we will have Graduates, Masters
and doctors, but we will not have the skilled 'artisan' workforce
]to actually do the job".
94. Some witnesses suggested that skills could
be transferred from other existing industries, such as maritime
and offshore engineering (that is, offshore oil and gas and offshore
wind), consultancy and marine services.
Energy infrastructure company Alstom said "it is very important
that we capitalise on these existing North Sea skills sets before
However, the Carbon Trust was sceptical about whether this would
solve the problem:
The UK renewable energy industry faces a general
shortage of suitably skilled workers in both technical and commercial
disciplines and faces stiff competition for talent with other
industries, particularly offshore oil and gas and other major
construction sectors. Relying on talent from those sectors or
importing labour from abroad will not be sufficient.
95. We are concerned about the
shortage of skilled scientists and engineers in the workforce.
The Government must encourage more students into these disciplines
now so that they are able to take advantage of the new jobs that
could be created through a UK-based wave and tidal industry. We
note that students may be more likely to select science and engineering
subjects if they felt confident that there would be suitable jobs
available once they qualified. The level of confidence that DECC
can provide about the future of the wave and tidal industry in
the UK may therefore have an impact on education and training
96. We have the impression that the industry
has not yet given a great deal of consideration to potential public
concerns about wave and tidal energy. Although projects to date
may not have experienced much local opposition, the situation
may change when commercial-scale projects begin to be deployed.
97. The Tyndall Centre told us that among industry
players there is "still a dominance of a sense of the technologies
being 'out of sight out of mind' and 'benign'".
It is risky to assume that simply because wave and tidal
energy is less visually intrusive than other types of energy generation
(such as wind and nuclear), it will automatically be more socially
We heard that "local interpretations of marine energy
can differ unexpectedly" from those of developers and that
there may be other reasons for objections to marine energy, including
its impacts on wildlife and implications for the fishing industry.
98. Involving the public (and other stakeholders)
ahead of deployment could identify key public concerns and ensure
they are properly addressed in the development of new projects.
This may avoid delays to projects further down the line. More
engagement would also provide an opportunity to set out the potential
benefits associated with marine energy, for example the fact that
tidal power is predictable (unlike some other renewable sources
of energy) as well as any local economic benefits that may arise.
99. We recommend that DECC establishes
a new working group under the Marine Energy Programme to consider
public engagement. Its remit should include identifying best practice
and suggesting methods for effective public engagement ahead of
any new marine energy projects. It could also collate a list of
common concerns expressed by members of the public so that they
can be addressed up front in the development of any new project.
Public understanding and acceptance of new technologies is important
in its own right, but it may also contribute to a smoother, more
consensual and therefore quicker planning and consenting process.
100. During our trip to Orkney, we heard that
the Crown Estate had not consulted with the local community before
announcing its leasing round for wave and tidal projects in Pentland
Firth and Orkney Waters. We were pleased that the Crown Estate
acknowledged that "there is probably more that we could have
done before and during [the leasing round]" and that it is
now taking a more pro-active approach to public engagement ahead
of its leasing round in Northern Ireland.
101. As well as giving the public an opportunity
to express any concerns, Research Councils UK also suggested that
local communities should benefit from the financial rewards of
local marine renewables projects, for example by obliging energy
companies to share some of the income generated from wave and
However, we note that this type of approach can be controversial,
since accusations of bribery may arise. The Chancellor has recently
announced a "Coastal Communities Fund", which should
allow communities in coastal areas to benefit from some of the
revenue raised by the Crown Estate's marine activities (which
would otherwise be paid to the Treasury).
104 Ev 53, 58, 62, 67, 82, 85, 88, 91, 99, w1, w8,
w24, w35, w39, w45, w49, w52, w54, w58, w61, w73, w78, w83, w85,
w91, w97, w100, w107, w111; Q 37 Back
Ev 42 Back
Ev w122; Q 38 Back
Ev 62, 99, w20, w24, w35, w54, w58, w85, w100, w107, w122 Back
Qq 117, 129 Back
Ev w85, w122; Q 39 Back
Ofgem, Electricity transmission charging: assessment of options
for change, Consultation, 20 December 2011, reference 188/11,
Q 120 Back
Q 119 Back
Ev 58, w29, w35, w54, w83 Back
Ev 58 Back
Ev w29, w83 Back
Ev 58, w83 Back
Ev 53, 62, 88, w102 Back
Ev w1, w32, w35, w39, w54, w107; Q 73 [Mr Pearson, Mr Lafayette] Back
Ev 71, w12, w66, w68, w69 Back
Ev 103; Q 140 Back
EV 42 (DECC) Back
Ev 53, 58, w12 , w14, w66 Back
Qq 132, 141, 147 Back
Ev 103 Back
Qq 28-29, 55, 74 Back
Ev w20, w52, w61, Ev w119; Q 109 Back
Ev w20; The BIS Committee launched its inquiry into apprenticeships
on 21 December 2011. Back
Ev 58, 67, w24, w29, w39, w45, w61, w85; Qq 110-111 Back
Ev w45 Back
Ev 82 Back
Ev w1 , w20, w35; Qq 50-52, 104, 106 [Dr Clarke] Back
Ev w83 Back
Ev w85, w91 Back
Ev 103, w83, w113; Q 106 [Dr Green] Back
Ev 71, w49, w66, w113; The Scottish Affairs Committee launched
its inquiry on "The Crown Estate in Scotland" on 6 July
Qq 155 - 158 Back
Ev 71 Back