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Tides of change: how the UK can harness marine power

Investing in wave energy can create green jobs and lower emissions
December 12, 2020

The environment has shot up the domestic and global agenda. This is good news for MPs like myself, who are part of the Conservative Environment Network, and renewed emphasis on a greener Britain should stimulate local constituency efforts—in Gloucester, for example, we have ambitious ideas for a Green Energy Park to generate significant solar, wind and (later) hydrogen energy.

There will be challenges. Carrying constituents with us on the phasing out of diesel and petrol cars will involve mammoth effort—requiring new regulations on electric charging points, incentives to switch vehicles and tax breaks to manufacturers so that electric cars are affordable. In terms of other initiatives, while boosting offshore wind and nuclear is great, the jobs impact won’t be felt everywhere. So what else is out there that can contribute to a greater diversity of green energy and green jobs? The answer is marine energy, which aims to bring benefits from our tides and waves, among the strongest in the world.

While the media story so far has been about the rejection of the proposal for a pilot Swansea Tidal Lagoon, there is much more happening—and along many parts of the UK coastline. In England, one exciting new development is the opening of the Perpetuus Tidal Energy Centre on the Isle of Wight. This facility is set up to incubate 30 megawatts (enough to power 15,000 homes), and has potential to expand to produce 10 times as much. This is one of five sites along the English Channel brought forward by the government-sponsored TIGER project, showing the value of the public and private sectors working together. In Wales, plans have been confirmed to make Bardsey the first island in the world to be totally powered by tidal energy: five 100-watt turbines will be laid off Gwynedd. Even more ambitious is the Morlais project, which has identified 240MW of capability off Holy Island, Anglesey. Further south, potential for wave energy is being explored in Pembrokeshire.

Scotland has been the stage for some of the biggest developments since the launch of the Pentland Firth tidal energy farm in 2016. This month the Orkney-based European Marine Energy Centre confirmed a transformational project that will use tidal power to produce continuous green hydrogen.

We shouldn’t forget Northern Ireland. One of our most powerful tides is in the Narrows between Strangford Lough and the Irish Sea, and there are innovations here too, like the Power Kite: a machine which travels underwater in a figure of eight to increase the water flow through a mounted turbine.

All of these will be able to bid for the pot of marine energy funding that the Business Department intends to create. This is exciting for energy projects on our own coastline, which have potential to create some 22,000 jobs. And marine energy also has export potential. Scotland-based Nova Energy, for example, has an order to export 15 turbines to Canada, and Indonesia’s goal to reduce its own dependency on diesel generators makes the Bardsey project of interest to them.

Marine energy is a sector still in its infancy, but one in which the UK leads. If the government commits to fund, say, 150MW of marine energy projects and displays them at COP26, trade envoys like myself can encourage other island nations to replicate our own innovative green successes.