The UK has the potential to generate up to 30 per cent of its electricity needs from marine power and should become a world leader in the field if it continues its rate of innovation, according to a report from industry analysts Frost and Sullivan.
The report claims that while there remain a number of significant obstacles to widespread adoption of the technology, marine energy is the most reliable source of renewable energy and the UK is one of the best areas in the world for harnessing its power.
"The UK is a clear leader in the sector, both in terms of support to the sector and in terms of activity," the report says, adding that if wave and tidal systems continue to be developed at their current rates, approximately 3GW could be installed in Europe by 2020 - much of it by UK companies.
It also claims that up to half of Europe's wave power could be generated from UK waters where strong tides and long stretches of coast line help make deployments commercially viable.
However, Frost and Sullivan warn that a number of obstacles need to be overcome before widescale adoption can happen in the UK.
The report notes that any electricity generated from current projects is predicted to cost €0.1 (£0.08) per KWh, more than double the price for UK grid electricity. Consequently, it recommends that proposed feed-in tariffs are extended to cover marine energy projects to guarantee developers improved returns.
It also warns that high start up costs, difficulties in connecting offshore projects to the grid, and a skills shortage are all hampering expansion of the sector.
The report recommends that knowledge transfer schemes be set up with offshore wind firms as well as offshore oil drilling firms to help accelerate development of marine energy technologies.
"In a number of areas there is a direct transfer of technology possible (for example monopile foundations for offshore wind and marine current turbines); in others it is the expertise and experience that could be transferred," says the report.
The United Kingdom Energy Research Council (UKERC) has targets to install 2GW of marine energy by 2020, while The Carbon Trust believes that about 2.8GW of tidal projects can be installed in the UK. And although there are no government targets for marine energy as yet, a number of projects have received funding in the past year.
The report comes as the Crown Estate yesterday invited initial proposals for the first round of commercial marine power sites to be located in the Pentland Firth, to the north of Scotland and the surrounding waters.
The Round 1 leasing programme is aimed at delivering 700MW of new offshore wave and tidal power by 2020.
The initial devices are expected to be full size demonstration devices deployed in small arrays. Should they prove successful, full commercial scale turbines could be deployed - although experts warned such a move would require significant investment to enhance Northern Scotland's electricity grid.
Rob Hastings, The Crown Estate's director of the marine estate, said the UK must take its chance to be a world leader in marine technology.
"In this country, we are widely recognised as having both the technological lead and some of the best wave and tidal resources in the world," he said. "It is essential that this technology is given every opportunity to thrive here, in our waters, to the benefit of the environment, the energy industry, and the wider economy."
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