Carbon Trust

Best marine energy sites could be cost competitive with nuclear and onshore wind by 2025 with accelerated and targeted innovation

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Source: Carbon Trust

Major three-year Carbon Trust marine energy R&D programme sets course for future growth

New in-depth analysis published today by the Carbon Trust shows the UK’s best marine energy sites could generate electricity at costs comparable with nuclear and onshore wind1.  With continued and targeted innovation this could be as soon as 2025, once cost reductions from deploying the first gigawatt of energy devices have kicked-in.   In the future marine energy could provide a fifth of the UK’s electricity needs.

Through its Marine Energy Accelerator programme, the Carbon Trust has established that the costs for the first wave and tidal energy farms will be around 30-40p/Kwh which is high, relative to today’s more established low carbon technologies, such as offshore wind.  These costs are broadly as expected given the early stage of the technologies’ development.  Importantly the report concludes how with continued and targeted innovation aggressive reductions in costs can be achieved in the next ten years.  The report also quantifies the amount of energy that can realistically be tapped and sets out the actions now needed to set the industry on a path to commercial success.

The analysis shows that wave energy could generate 50 Terra Watt hours (TWh) of electricity per year, equivalent to 13% of the UK’s power needs, and tidal stream 20.6 TWh per year or 5% of UK power needs.  Between them wave and tidal stream could generate more electricity than 12 large coal-fired power stations.  The fast flowing tides of the deeper areas of the Pentland Firth between the Scottish mainland and the Orkneys alone could ultimately generate almost one third of all tidal stream energy (6 TWh/year) and at an equivalent cost to nuclear and onshore wind.

Technology innovation will be vital to tackle the harsher conditions which are encountered in the deeper areas of the Pentland Firth.  With targeted innovation energy generation costs for both wave and tidal stream technologies could reduce to an average of 15 pence per kilowatt hour by 2025 - equivalent to today's cost of offshore wind energy.

The £3.5m Marine Energy Accelerator has already driven innovation in key areas including device deployment and mooring.  Just one of these innovations, developed with Pelamis Wave Power, has projected savings of £15m a year by 2020 through faster installation and connection of the device in rougher weather conditions.

Benj Sykes, Director of Innovations at Carbon Trust, said:
“Marine energy is one of the UK’s most exciting green growth sectors and one where we have a real lead.  Wave and tidal stream could provide a fifth of our electricity needs and be a major ‘made in Britain’ success.  The key players must now pull together to tackle the next set of challenges and innovate to drive down costs.  Our Marine Energy Accelerator, working with key industry players and Government, has shown that savings of tens of millions of pounds are possible.”

Separate Carbon Trust analysis has shown that the UK could capture just under a quarter of the global marine energy market.  Equivalent to up to £76bn to the UK economy by 2050, this growing sector could also generate over 68,000 UK jobs.

The latest analysis from the Marine Energy Accelerator highlighted the following key areas for action:

  • Targeted innovation is needed to drive cost reduction and de-risk the industry.  Project developers should engage in non-competitive R&D efforts to tackle challenges and costs associated with array deployment, foundations and electrical connections.
  • Government needs to provide a stable revenue support framework and legislative backing through Strategic Environmental Assessments to streamline the planning process for wave and tidal energy farms.
  • Utilities and project developers must continue to be more heavily involved in the industry which will generate wider investor confidence.
  • Supply chain partners should look to invest now to create market-leading positions.
  • Plans for grid connections to areas of marine energy need to be expanded, specifically for the Pentland Firth.

By working with device developers and other key players, the Marine Energy Accelerator has successfully driven forward innovation in the following areas to speed cost reductions:

  • Optimising the design of tidal turbine blades which might otherwise be significantly over-engineered
  • Developing nylon (instead of steel) ropes and gravity bag anchors for mooring devices
  • Developing novel ‘linear generators’ which would replace hydraulics meaning fewer moving parts and less maintenance
  • Developing new techniques to enable the generating equipment in floating wave devices to be disconnected from the main structure
  • Developing a unique technology for connecting and disconnecting the Pelamis P2 from its mooring enabling maintenance in rougher seas
  • Taking forward the engineering and commercial development of two ‘next generation’ concepts (Minesto’s Deep Green tidal energy device and Checkmate Sea Energy’s Anaconda wave energy device) which hold potential for game changing reductions in the cost of energy.

British companies such as Pelamis, Aquamarine Power and Marine Current Turbines are leading the way in deploying their technologies in UK waters, with six out of the eight full scale prototypes in the world being installed here.  Almost half of Europe’s wave resources and over a quarter of its tidal energy resources are to be found off the British coastline.

About the Carbon Trust

The Carbon Trust is a not-for-profit company with the mission to accelerate the move to a low carbon economy, providing specialist support to business and the public sector to help cut carbon emissions, save energy and commercialise low carbon technologies.  By stimulating low carbon action we contribute to key UK goals of lower carbon emissions, the development of low carbon businesses, increased energy security and associated jobs.

We help to cut carbon emissions now by:

  • Providing specialist advice and finance to help organisations cut carbon
  • Setting standards for carbon reduction

We reduce potential future carbon emissions by:

  • Opening markets for low carbon technologies
  • Leading industry collaborations to commercialise technologies
  • Investing in early stage low carbon companies

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