Energy minister Greg Barker today said it was “bonkers” that the UK had not done more to exploit wave and tidal energy.
He branded marine energy as a “Cinderella industry” and stressed “this has to change. The time has come to get marine out of the shadows.”
And his comments came as trade association RenewableUK today launched a campaign to urge the government not to cut financial support for the marine energy sector.
Mr Barker was speaking at a wave and tidal conference in London where he said there was “a real will to make marine energy work for Britain and to see Britain emerge as the real global leader in this exciting new industry”.
He said the development of the marine energy sector “is explicitly written into the fabric of the Coalition Agreement and said the government was attempting to bring “a new philosophy to marine energy”.
“We can’t just look at it through the narrow prism of our 2020 renewables targets. We need to look at the whole opportunity. To work together to build a global industry in the UK which will create new jobs and growing economic opportunities both at home and globally.”
He also talked up the value of the UK’s knowledge of ocean energy to other countries. “I was pleased to see that a delegation from the Chilean government is attending the conference to learn about the UK’s marine energy advances and how they can best exploit their own marine resources. My officials spent some of yesterday talking to them about this. This interest from Chile, from China, South Korea and others shows that the news about the UK’s expertise is spreading across the globe.”
The main thrust of Mr Barker’s speech however was on his intention to create ‘Marine Energy Parks’. He told delegates: “The clustering of companies in the Silicon Valley in the US was a key driver of innovation and growth because it fostered information sharing and competition which ultimately led to a reduction in investment risk.
“I think that the marine sector could benefit from a similar model and I think Marine Energy Parks, which draw together R&D, manufacturing and other sector expertise, could achieve that.
“I want the parks to have a focus on all the elements which will help build a vibrant UK marine energy sector.Ultimately, this includes manufacturing and fabrication, but this will need to draw from and be supported by other elements: innovation; R&D expertise; supply chain development and service and support industries.”
The minister said that for too long marine energy had “languished as a Cinderella industry – never quite making it to the ball”. To rectify this he said he was considering a number of options, including a new Feed-in-Tariff mechanism. “This will give marine generators access to this new form of FITs from the start, providing added certainty and a more stable revenue stream.
“It will take a little while before the new FITs are in place and the marine sector needs confidence that appropriate support will be in place before that to ensure that longer-term investments are made. Clearly the longer-term future of the sector is tied up with the new FITs. But we will address this immediate issue through the review of the current Renewables Obligation.”
RenewableUK unveiled its SeaPower campaign at the same event where Mr Barker was speaking.
RenewableUK’s chief executive Maria McCaffrey said: “Britain is currently at the forefront of the marine energy sector globally. The huge economic and environmental opportunities arising from this growing industry are recognised by countries such as the USA, Canada and China, and there is a real danger that our leading position will be lost to overseas competitors. It is vital that the government retains its support for this sector.”