ETI Marine Energy Report

21 Feb 2017

Fitting EMEC purpose built cable ends (Photo: Mike Brookes-Roper/ EMEC)

Fitting EMEC purpose built cable ends (Photo: Mike Brookes-Roper/ EMEC)

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.

ROADMAP
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.

ONGOING CHALLENGES
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.

FUTURE PROSPECTS
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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