Impact of Brexit on the UK and European marine energy sector

21 Feb 2017

Brexit will, of course, have no effect on the UK's abundant renewable marine energy resources

Brexit cannot take away the UK's abundant renewable marine energy resources (Photo: Chris Hart/ Creative Commons)

As Britain begins the process of leaving the European Union in the wake of the Brexit vote, stakeholders across the UK marine renewable energy sector are busy coming to terms with the likely long-term implications.

So, what impacts have been felt by the wave, tidal and
offshore wind sectors so far?  What can
we expect over the next few years - particularly as the implications of EU exit
become a concrete reality?

Although the Brexit decision has certainly ruffled a lot of feathers
amongst the political and media classes, early indications suggest that any
potentially negative (or indeed positive) business and financial impacts have
not yet been felt by the UK marine renewable energy sector.  As Neil Kermode, Managing Director at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC),
explains, this is at least partly because the sector is 'known to be flexible'
- meaning that it is prepared to 'work with whatever comes.'

"Being firmly in the innovation space, it is
inconceivable that the UK would not want to exploit its sovereign resources and
make the most of the opportunities this new technology offers, particularly when
it already has a world lead," he says.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Webber, Director of External Affairs at RenewableUK - the country's leading not
for profit renewable energy trade association - points out that investment in
the British marine renewable energy sector is 'still strong,' with a number of new
developments ongoing.  That said, she
admits that the marine sector continues to study ongoing developments 'closely.'

Despite this largely upbeat assessment, there are some signs
that the fall out of the Brexit saga is beginning to dent confidence amongst
potential investors.  According to Anders
Jansson, Commercial Director at the Swedish wave energy company CorPower Ocean, the 'additional
uncertainties' relating to future funding and government investments in the
marine energy sectors is 'obviously' a negative development - particularly for
those investors considering ploughing money into the UK.

Even so, Jansson stresses that 'no real actions' have yet been
taken - and he reveals that the company continues to work according to its 'set
plan' as far as the UK is concerned.  Such
a 'business as usual' attitude is likely to be greeted with relief by many in
the UK wave energy sector, particularly those based north of the border.  This is particularly true because it means
that, following the completion of dry testing of the next generation wave power
plant in Stockholm (as well as the award of a contract from Wave Energy
Scotland), it now looks as though CorPower Ocean intends to go ahead with the
installation of the system at the EMEC facilities in Scotland during the summer
as planned.

Although the UK marine energy sector seems to be keeping an even keel so
far, there are ominous signs of potentially stormy water on the horizon -
largely stirred up by uncertainty over long term policy and funding
implications.  Jansson believes it is
'too early to say' what the ultimate implications of the Brexit decision will
be - particularly since the industry is still in the dark 'about what the UK
government plans to do in order to compensate for the loss of EU funding and
how trade deals will look' - meaning that most actors continue to work
'according to set targets and business as usual.' 

Such concerns over funding uncertainty are especially
salient for CorPower, given the fact that the company was awarded
a €4m grant by the European Commission
(EC) for its WaveBoost project in
November last year.  Even so, he argues
that continuing 'unknowns and uncertainties' make marine energy developers
hesitate to move business or invest in projects in the UK - and warns that the
country's lead 'is likely to be lost to France, Portugal, Ireland and other
coastal countries in the EU.'

"However, the UK is in desperate need to increase the
amount of energy production - and with such a vast potential in wave and tidal,
we believe that the UK will be a large market in the future," he says.

In helping to avoid the prospect of the UK marine renewable
energy sector slipping down the international league tables, Webber agrees that
the UK government now has a crucial role to play in fostering an ongoing sense
of certainty - and believes that stability in UK policy is the 'most important
thing for investment in UK renewables.'  

"The climate change act commits us to binding carbon
targets, and renewable energy has a key role to play in these," she says.

"The marine sector has benefitted from innovation
funding from Europe, and it's important that as part of the upcoming industrial
strategy the Government explains how it will encourage this innovative
sector," she adds.

Looking ahead, Webber says it is important that
organisations across the UK marine renewables sector continue to work on
effective Brexit strategies - and she confirms that RenewableUK is currently
working with offshore wind, wave and tidal companies to 'understand the impact
on them, and to coordinate views into Government.'

"Government has been clear that it is open to
representation and keen to work with industry to maximise future trading
opportunities.  Offshore technologies are
global markets and the new Department for International Trade is well organised
to help British firms access these global markets," she adds.

Kermode agrees that the future success of the sector will depend
on the UK's access to innovation funding - and is confident that government
assurances that innovation is to be encouraged 'should mean that the work done
will be safeguarded.'  Given the ongoing
change, as well as the uncertainty on the horizon - Kermode also urges
organisations operating in the sector to adopt a flexible approach and to 'keep
focused on what it does best - safely doing clever, complicated innovations in
the ocean.'

By Andrew Williams

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