Government’s £200m wave energy plan undermined by failures

The government's wave energy plan has been hit by a string of failures. Picture: ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images
The government's wave energy plan has been hit by a string of failures. Picture: ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images
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A flagship government push to exploit wave power as the energy of the future has been undermined by a string of “failures” despite £200 million of investment, new research indicates.

A long-term strategy to create a commercial wave energy device is now needed to ensure it features in the UK’s future power mix, a Strathclyde University reports stated.

The demise of the once-feted industry has been a blow for Scotland’s renewables ambitions. Recent years saw pioneering Edinburgh-based wave firms Pelamis and Aquamarine wound up because they couldn’t make a success of the technology.

A poor understanding of the scale of the challenge in mastering wave energy was highlighted in today’s report, as well as a premature emphasis on array-scale commercialisation and a lack of test facilities.

Matthew Hannon, Chancellor’s Fellow of Technology and Innovation at Strathclyde Business School, said: “The report’s findings are aimed primarily at government and industry in a bid to help improve the effectiveness of future wave energy innovation support in the UK and accelerate the technology’s journey towards commercialisation.”

Hannah Smith, senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables, called on government to “provide a viable mechanism to ensure the sector’s continued development”, adding failure to do so “would risk losing Scotland’s lead in this global industry”.

The research was carried out by the Strathclyde team in conjunction with Imperial College London and focused on the failure to develop “market-ready” wave energy devices and where government and industry support fell short.

Rapidly changing, poorly co-ordinated policies and a lack of knowledge exchange between technology developers was also blamed.

But the Scottish Government has now redesigned its research, design and development programmes, as well as creating new networks for sharing information and developed “world-class” test stations. Scotland is also urged to develop a long-term wave power strategy focused on creating a single commercially-viable device that is resilient to funding any EU and UK withdrawal which is likely after Brexit.

The report also calls for an improvement in co-ordination on research and development support within and across government and avoiding having to compete for subsidies with other renewables.

A spokesman for the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said that up to £557 million had been made available for new, clean electricity auctions. He added: “Wave and tidal stream technologies could participate in the latest auction, but we didn’t ring-fence budget for them at the expense of other, potentially less expensive technologies. This meant we brought forward over 3GW of clean electricity while ensuring the best value for money for consumers.

“We will continue to work with the marine industry to examine ways to reduce the cost of this technology.”