Ocean Energy Development: Now Is Not the Time to Be Faint-hearted

Last month the European Ocean Energy Association hosted its first conference outside Brussels at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh. It was a great event.

European ocean energy, and a surprising number of officials, came to the home of the wave industry. What got me at this conference is that Europe is now listening. We heard of the ‘Blue Growth’ plan. Blue Growth is the long term strategy to support sustainable growth in the marine sector.

The ‘blue’ economy represents 5.4 million jobs and a gross added value of just under €500 billion a year. However, further growth is possible in a number of areas which are highlighted within the strategy. Thankfully marine energy is now one of the blue growth areas. While marine renewable energy includes offshore wind — it also considers wave and tidal energy as well as ocean thermal energy conversion.

Marine energy, according to the official EU communication on the matter, has “the potential to enhance the efficiency of harvesting the European energy resource, minimize land use requirements…and reduce European greenhouse gas emissions (by about 65 Mt of CO2 in 2020).”

We have the Scottish Government attention, we have the U.K. Government attention and now we have the EU attention. We have come along way in the wave industry and we have the initial wave machines now being tested at full scale at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney.

The conference was able to add some real-life colour to this high level debate, and we heard that in Orkney more than 250 people now work in marine renewable — a tremendous statistic considering the total population of the islands is only around 20,000.

We were also able to confirm that Oyster 800 is now back in service after its summer refit. Bringing the machine straight back into service worked quite well and is a real credit to the machine designers. We know it works we have to focus on making it reliable and then cost effective.

Of course the marine energy sector has risks — financing risks, technical risks, political risks and many others. We can all find reasons not to do something. The prize however is huge: economic activity, manufacturing jobs, investment in peripheral regions and the ability to impact the way we use and think of the marine environment.

We have seen this scenario before — in industries such as nuclear energy and wind where the U.K. has had an early technology lead, yet has failed to continue to invest at the point in time when the risks, and the potential rewards, are highest.

A quick look across the channel offers a very interesting view. After a slow start the French have announced a huge programme of work at Cherbourg. They have set aside several hundred acres, are putting in a 1,250-MW interconnector, are building several factories and determined to do 4.4 GW of marine energy in the Basse-Normandy region.

The French Government is dedicating €30 million each to three tidal projects and will invest more than €100 million into research, development and demonstration through France Energies Marine.

Now that is ambition, and it is difficult not to be a small bit envious.

So I would say now is the time for U.K. engineering to be bold, to step in and help create a new industry. Now is the time for risk taking. Now is the time to decide if the U.K. is a risk taker or a user.

We must take the jobs and the economic activity, they are rightly ours. Now is not the time to be faint-hearted.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” – Marie Curie

This article was originally published on Aquamarine Power and was republished wth permission.

Lead image: Ocean via Shutterstock

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Martin McAdam leads the Senior Management Team and sits on Aquamarine Power's Board of Directors as an Executive Director. He has a track record in building successful businesses in the renewables sector, having previously founded the North American operations of a major wind power company. Prior to joining Aquamarine Power as CEO in 2008, Martin was the founder and CEO of the North American operations of wind power developer and operator Airtricity. Martin went on to lead the sale of Airtricity USA to Eon in 2007 for £0.75 billion. Before joining Airtricity (now SSE Renewables), Martin held a number of senior technical and management roles in the utility sector. Martin is a Chartered Engineer, a Member of the Institute of Engineers of Ireland, a Fellow of Engineers Ireland and a Fellow of the Royal Society for Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce. Martin holds a BE (Hons) in Chemical Engineering and is an alumni of Harvard Business School, having completed its Advanced Management Program in 2004.

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