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

6 Other 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.[104]

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.[105]

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).[106] Witnesses told us that high transmission charges may impede the development of the industry.[107]

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 electricity system.[108] Witnesses to our inquiry were hopeful that the outcome of this review would improve the situation for wave and tidal.[109] 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 location.[110] Ofgem is due to conclude its consultation and make a final recommendation in Spring 2012.[111]

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 cancelled).[112] E.ON explained:

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.[113]

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.[114] The second proposal was for Government to take on some or all of the underwriting liability.[115]

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.[116] 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.[117]


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.[118] 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.[119]

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.[120] 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.[121]

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.[122] 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".[123] 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.[124]

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.[125] 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".[126]

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.[127] Energy infrastructure company Alstom said "it is very important that we capitalise on these existing North Sea skills sets before they disappear".[128] 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.[129]

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 choices.

Public acceptability

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.[130]

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'".[131] 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 acceptable.[132] 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.[133]

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.[134]

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.[135]

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 tidal energy.[136] 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

105   Ev 42 Back

106   Ev w122; Q 38 Back

107   Ev 62, 99, w20, w24, w35, w54, w58, w85, w100, w107, w122 Back

108   Qq 117, 129 Back

109   Ev w85, w122; Q 39 Back

110   Ofgem, Electricity transmission charging: assessment of options for change, Consultation, 20 December 2011, reference 188/11, Q 120 Back

111   Q 119 Back

112   Ev 58, w29, w35, w54, w83  Back

113   Ev 58  Back

114   Ev w29, w83  Back

115   Ev 58, w83  Back

116   Ev 53, 62, 88, w102  Back

117   Ev w1, w32, w35, w39, w54, w107; Q 73 [Mr Pearson, Mr Lafayette] Back

118   Ev 71, w12, w66, w68, w69  Back

119   Ev 103; Q 140 Back

120   EV 42 (DECC) Back

121   Ev 53, 58, w12 , w14, w66 Back

122   Qq 132, 141, 147 Back

123   Ev 103  Back

124   Qq 28-29, 55, 74 Back

125   Ev w20, w52, w61, Ev w119; Q 109 Back

126   Ev w20; The BIS Committee launched its inquiry into apprenticeships on 21 December 2011. Back

127   Ev 58, 67, w24, w29, w39, w45, w61, w85; Qq 110-111 Back

128   Ev w45 Back

129   Ev 82 Back

130   Ev w1 , w20, w35; Qq 50-52, 104, 106 [Dr Clarke] Back

131   Ev w83  Back

132   Ev w85, w91  Back

133   Ev 103, w83, w113; Q 106 [Dr Green] Back

134   Ev 71, w49, w66, w113; The Scottish Affairs Committee launched its inquiry on "The Crown Estate in Scotland" on 6 July 2011. Back

135   Qq 155 - 158 Back

136   Ev 71 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 19 February 2012