ETI Marine Energy Report

The supply chain needs to recognise that standard off -the-shelf components don't always work for marine energy
The supply chain needs to recognise that standard off -the-shelf components don't always work for marine energy (Photo: Mike Brookes-Roper/ EMEC)
Fitting EMEC purpose built cable ends (Photo: Mike Brookes-Roper/ EMEC)
Fitting EMEC purpose built cable ends (Photo: Mike Brookes-Roper/ EMEC)
Stuart Bradley of the Energy Technologies Institute
Stuart Bradley of the Energy Technologies Institute

The UK Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) has recently published a high-profile report outlining the key priorities for the marine energy sector in competing with other low carbon sources.

The report concludes that the success of the MeyGen project, currently under construction in the Pentland Firth, is 'pivotal' to the future prospects for the UK tidal energy industry - and calls for the swift establishment of a comprehensive agreement on Contracts for Difference (CfD) for the sector.  It also finds that wave energy is currently 'up to 10 times more expensive than other low carbon alternatives' and urges a 'radical rethink' of strategies if the UK sector is to become cost competitive.

"We think that there are great natural resources available in the UK, off the coast of Scotland and Western England and Wales that can make a contribution to the UK's energy mix as we transition to a low-carbon economy," says Dr. Stuart Bradley, Strategy Manager - Offshore Renewables at the ETI.

"The MeyGen development is pivotal to this, being a large-scale project that could provide a cost-effective, reliable and predictable energy resource.  But support is needed to get to that commercial exploitation, and part of that is to support marine energy with security and encouragement in the form of an agreed CfD," he adds.

As Bradley explains, the findings of the report build on a growing body of work already carried out by the ETI, including the results of the ETI's Marine Energy Roadmap exercise - as well as its UK energy (whole) system modelling tool, called ESME - which has already been used alongside the UKERC (UK Energy Research Centre) to set out targets for variables like the Levelised Cost of Energy for the marine energy industry to meet, as well as the necessary developments required to do so.  The report also follows two industry specific wave and tidal energy projects and subsequent 'insight' papers published in 2015

Amongst other things, the report outlines the key technological challenges still facing both tidal and wave - including energy system integration and cost reduction - and singles out in situ proving, supply chain development and array design as specific 'priority challenges' for the tidal energy sector.  The report also reveals that wave energy technology is currently 'much less mature' than tidal stream - and calls for a 'radical new direction' focused on convergence around common technologies.

"Wave Energy Scotland's work is pivotal to the exploitation of our rich resources and the provision of low-carbon energy, and WES is doing an excellent job in providing a clear strategy and project funding to get towards commercial adoption," says Bradley.

Elsewhere, Simon Cheeseman, Sector Lead - Wave and Tidal at the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult (OREC), which works closely with ETI on the development of marine energy technologies, agrees that tidal stream technology is currently at a more mature stage than wave energy technology.  In his view, tidal energy is definitely closer to realising commercialisation, whereas wave still has 'some way to go' - although he does point out that some wave into aquaculture solutions 'may be closer to market.'

He also agrees that wave energy needs 'significant innovation and disruptive technology solutions' to drive down costs and, in working towards this objective, explains that OREC assesses other sectors for what he describes as 'suitable technology pull through' - and has developed a Technology Assessment Process to benchmark emerging wave (and tidal) technologies.

"Wave Energy Scotland is leading the development space for wave looking to inject design discipline and reliability into components and subassemblies," he says.

"Energy from tidal range - barrage or lagoons - is well understood.  The technology is reasonably mature, although there is still some work to do to optimise turbine design and control systems and confirm reliability.  The key issue is funding such large civil operations and conducting appropriate environmental impact assessments," he adds.

More broadly speaking, Cheeseman stresses that the tidal energy sector still faces major challenges relating to cost reduction and determination of the 'optimum platform design to harvest tidal energy' - and argues that the sector as a whole needs to develop a deeper understanding of 'how to design, build and operate reliably within a hostile sub-sea environment.'  He also believes that wave energy technology developers face 'significant challenges in the journey towards commercialisation'

"The industry is still in very early development, with little evidence of design convergence or standardisation. The wide variety of bespoke wave energy solutions that are emerging are more costly to develop, compared to those within the wind and tidal sectors where standard generic components are deployed," he says.

"Wave technology developers struggle, not only to attract public and private sector investment but, as first movers, are burdened with the development of both enabling technologies and components for first arrays," he adds.

Looking ahead, Bradley calls for 'consistent and clear support' for the fledgling tidal energy industry as a means of ensuring that the UK supply chain can continue working on capability and capacity building.  Although he recognises that Scotland is currently 'leading the way' with its Wave Energy Scotland initiative, he also stresses the need to make sure the WES secures the support it requires to deliver its planned 'new radical direction' - as well to complete collaborative projects aimed at meeting the Marine Energy Roadmap targets.

Meanwhile, Cheeseman urges stakeholders to remain 'fully committed' to marine energy, but recognises that novel technology 'takes time to mature' and needs targeted ongoing funding to ensure it reaches commercial maturity as quickly as possible.

"The supply chain needs to recognise that standard off -the-shelf components don't always work for marine energy - as we operate in a harsh, highly oxygenated environment, with very high reliability requirements," he says.

By Andrew Williams

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