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Breakthrough 2017: Reframing Energy Policy

Posted By Luke Clark, 10 January 2018

2017 has indisputably been the year of clean, renewable power. Low carbon overall generated a majority of the UK’s electricity for the first time ever and wind generated more than coal plants on more than 75% of days last year and proved itself as the low cost option for our future power system. September’s auction results showed just how low the costs of mainstream renewable technologies have fallen, with offshore wind – previously seen as the outlier for low carbon technologies – halving costs and coming in cheaper than new nuclear and gas plants at £57.50 per MWh.


The stunning result for offshore wind has helped to reframe the debate about renewables more widely and, in particular, how the UK can take advantage of our cheapest option for new power capacity – onshore wind. Following very difficult years for the sector, we begin 2018 with a new recognition from Government that, as BEIS Minister Claire Perry said in November, “onshore wind is absolutely part of the future”. Industry has much to do to ensure new projects can get to market and RenewableUK is working with our members to make this a reality.


For marine renewables, 2017 brought more mixed results. The Hendry Review concluded that tidal lagoons can deliver a secure supply of energy for a price which is competitive in the long-term. But as the anniversary of the Hendry Review approaches we are still waiting for the Government’s response and a decision to take forward this world-leading project. The wider wave and tidal stream sector is continuing to innovate and bring forward new technologies to deliver the broad range of low carbon technologies we need for our future power mix. Last year the MeyGen project in the Pentland Firth delivered the world’s first commercial scale tidal array and Scotrenewables’s tidal turbine smashed the record for generating one gigawatt hour of power in testing at EMEC in Orkney.


The ambition of the sector isn’t matched, however, by the policy framework. Government is starting to recognise the need for new ways to support innovative technologies and Energy Minister Richard Harrington has said that Government is examining industry’s Innovation Power Purchase Agreement proposal. We know that the sector needs a robust evidence base and in the coming months, the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult and RenewableUK are producing a new study on the potential for cost reduction, UK exports and cuts in emissions from the marine renewables.


Innovation in 2017 wasn’t confined to wave and tidal energy; October saw Statoil and Masdar’s Hywind Scotland, the world’s first floating offshore wind farm, beginning to deliver electricity to the grid, and in May the world’s largest turbines, the MHI Vestas V164-8.0MW, started turning at Ørsted’s Burbo Bank Extension. The Queen’s visit to the Siemens Gamesa blade factory in Hull last November was a powerful signal of how renewables, and the UK industries we have built up, are now a part of the new energy mainstream.


In 2018, we want to go further still in building an energy system fit for the future – and the UK supply chains to deliver it. The consultation on our Smart Power Future and the launch of the £246 million Faraday Challenge to support innovation in batteries and storage were clear signals that the Government recognises the direction of travel for our power system. Last year RenewableUK joined forces with a range of energy bodies to launch the Smart Power Industries Alliance to look beyond individual technologies and take a whole system view of a renewables-dominated power mix.


We ended 2017 with new projections from Government that underline the move to a low carbon mix with renewables as the main source of energy. Just as 2017 marked the crossover point where we proved our case on costs, so 2018 will mark the moment we begin to reshape the power system to seize fully the opportunities of a clean energy future: reduced electricity bills, secure power supplies and more productive industries and high-value jobs across the UK.

Tags:  CfD  Innovation  Offshore Wind  Onshore Wind  Smart Energy  Tidal  Wave 

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Marine energy goes truly international in Edinburgh

Posted By Maf Smith, 11 March 2016
Updated: 15 March 2016
Last month, 860 people from across the globe gathered in Edinburgh to debate and push forwards the development of wave and tidal energy. Guests from 27 countries (including the UK) were brought together as part of the International Conference on Ocean Energy (ICOE 16). Companies, Governments and Academics attended from recognised ocean energy leaders such as the UK, France and Canada, but also countries such as China, Chile, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand and many more. The event was addressed by a European Commissioner and Ministers from Scotland and Nova Scotia and senior officials from many Governments around the world.

What all these countries have in common is a desire to accelerate the shift to a low carbon future, and an interest in capturing the substantial wave and tidal resource which sits, just in reach off all our coastlines.

In the last decade the world has seen a massive rise in renewables, with solar and wind now common and often major players in most electricity markets. Most countries underestimated the growth of these technologies, with consumer pressure and cost reductions leading to faster adoption than most energy experts anticipated. Last year Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported how renewables accounted for over 50% of investment in new energy capacity, a significant shift underlining the level of confidence and the mainstream nature of these technologies.

In the UK and increasingly abroad we have seen rapid growth of offshore wind, with innovation and deployment pulling costs down aggressively. Our future is going to see a significant role for solar and wind. What is not clear though is the scale and pace of development of other technologies, such as wave and tidal.

Right now wave and tidal sits at a critical point. Early technological optimism has set back the industry because rash over ambitious promises could not be fulfilled. But this ambition has driven a lot of learning, from successes and failures.

Just along from the Edinburgh Conference Centre, the National Museum of Scotland is building a permanent science and technology display to mark Scottish scientific achievements. Here will sit things like Sir Ian Wilmot’s Dolly the Sheep and information on the work of Sir Peter Higgs, who famously proposed the Higgs Boson, which was later confirmed in the Large Hadron Collider after many years of international scientific effort at CERN.

Alongside this will sit Salter’s Duck, the original wave machine which first demonstrated that electricity could be effectively generated by our seas. Stephen Salter proved his device at the University of Edinburgh which today is home to the world’s most advanced wave tank, Flo-wave, which can test devices in different sea states. Visitors can visit the tank and see technicians combine different sea characteristics to produce standing waves, perfect storms and one in 100 year events.

The day before ICOE16, Scottish Development International and Highlands & Islands Enterprise flew almost 100 of our international guests to Orkney, to visit what is probably the ocean energy equivalent of CERN – the European Marine Energy Centre. Active for over 10 years, EMEC has been home at one point or other to most of the globe’s wave and tidal prototypes, and through this has advanced our knowledge of how to capture wave and tidal energy.

While there have been many breakthroughs in wave and tidal, what has yet to happen is demonstrable cost reduction, and many of the conversations at ICOE16 were about how to deliver this. These pioneering technology companies are painfully aware that rapid progress is expected, and the need for rapid decarbonisation means that they will not have the luxury of time afforded to their technology forebears. The first commercial tidal stream project – Meygen - will begin construction next year off the north Scottish coastline. A lot is riding on the experience of this project, though other tidal companies are waiting in the wings also confident about their own devices.

To prove the existence of the Higgs Boson governments funded the international science community over to the tune of $13 billion. The discovery is important in opening up our understanding of particle physics. This applied research is critical to how we advance as an innovative economy.

In contrast the successors to Stephen Salter have proved the viability of wave and tidal on much smaller budgets, and with significantly more private sector investment. Every £1 of public money has levered in a further £6 of private investment, and brought us to the point of first commercial deployment.

The case for wave and tidal is still to be proven, but for me the pairing of Higgs and Salter in the National Museum is significant. To advance we need to take risks, and we need to follow up high level research with applied learning. From Cornwall to Kirkwall there are many internationally recognised companies hard at work to prove their ideas and make wave and tidal a reality. The international visitors to Scotland came to learn about this experience, and the exchange of information shows how we can all benefit from international cooperation. Talking to international delegates I was struck by how Scotland was judged as leading the field. Over coffee after a morning of discussion one Canadian delegate said, “well you guys are really going for it aren’t you.”

However, while we receive plaudits from abroad for our advanced research, the case for support here at home is less clear. Our industry needs to acknowledge that it has more steps to take, and has much research it needs to conduct. However, we should not shy away from pride in our record of learning and achievement.

While ICOE16 was addressed by many governments, notable was the absence of any UK Minister or UK official. The UK can be proud of what is has helped deliver – a world leading industry still confident of delivering a commercial breakthrough. On the back of national research from governments in the UK, Portugal and France, we are now seeing ambitious European funding support being assembled which our UK companies are well placed to capitalise on. Today, our Government is actively promoting innovation and further research funding for emerging energy technologies. It would be right to question the time taken for wave and tidal to deliver, but it would be wrong to conclude that it do not have a future. This is true when we consider how other technologies are allowed significant amounts development time, and benefit from long term support programmes aimed at helping them deliver. And it is particularly true when we are held in such high international regard for our world class research and industrial leadership.

Tags:  Conference  Edinburgh  ICOE16  Scotland  Tidal  Wave 

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