Tidal stream energy in the UK: Stakeholder perceptions study

This report presents the views of a range of stakeholders from the tidal stream energy sector on the barriers and opportunities that the sector faces and which organisations have the responsibility and ability to act on these. Approximately 20 individuals from a range of organisations were interviewed including: trade associations, academic research projects, testing facilities, regional and national government, utilities, funding bodies, regulators, and technology developers. The report identifies areas of consensus and disagreement within the industry.

Key findings from the project are summarised below. Degree of progress: There was a widely held view that the industry is very much ‘on the cusp’ of significant development. Grid connection by companies such as Marine Current Turbines and OpenHydro as well as the licensing of the Pentland Firth gave a clear backdrop of optimism and confidence to the sector. Funding: It was widely agreed that the current economic climate made attracting investment difficult for the sector. In addition, the profile of costs in the sector (i.e. high levels of investment to deploy, test and prove a device) makes attracting private investment challenging. The discrepancy in Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) banding between Scotland and the rest of the UK and between wave and tidal devices was much discussed by respondents.

Whilst it was broadly (although not exclusively) agreed that the discrepancy within the UK should be redressed, the appropriateness of the difference between wave and tidal was contested. Testing facilities : Testing facilities in the UK were seen as being world class. However, there were concerns expressed over the cost of accessing these facilities and some developers ‘jumping’ stages of testing. Grid: As with many renewables, connecting to the grid was widely seen as a potentially major barrier.

Concerns over availability of connection and the cost of that connection were discussed. There were calls for the Government to underwrite grid connection for the industry, giving tidal developments guaranteed and prioritised grid connection when they required it. An alternative suggestion was for developers to form consortia to apply collectively for grid connection in certain areas. Whilst seen as a significant barrier, many respondents stressed that transmission companies were now much more engaged with the sector and a sense of optimism that the issue could be dealt with satisfactorily was evident across the range of stakeholders. Overpromising: Many respondents from technology developers to Government officials felt that the sector had previously been guilty of ‘overpromising’ what it could deliver in terms of the speed of technology development and deployment. There was some concern that if claims continued not to be met, government support, private investment and public enthusiasm may wane. Scotland: The more favourable ROC regime, the early undertaking of an SEA, the significance of marine energy as a part of Scotland’s energy needs and political will, were seen by a range of stakeholders to have given Scotland a significant advantage over the rest of the UK. For some interviewees the wealth of marine energy resource in Scotland made this an entirely reasonable situation, for others there was a strong sense that steps must be taken so that the rest of the UK is not ‘left behind’. International Position: Whilst the UK Government and UK stakeholders generally saw the UK as being the ‘world leader’ in tidal stream and marine energy more generally, this position was felt by many respondents to more ‘at threat’ from international competition than it had ever been before. China, Portugal, France, Canada, Spain, Korea were noted among the key competitors.

Deployment of arrays of devices was seen as a key step in protecting the UK position as was establishing a UK based supply chain to service the world market. Environmental Impact: The degree to which the precautionary principle should be applied was contested and it was argued by many respondents that some of the environmental monitoring costs would need to be covered by the public purse. Whilst some presented the technologies as ‘benign’ others stressed that impacts were unavoidable and that the concern must be how best to deal with these. Networks: The level of design convergence in the tidal sector compared to wave energy led some respondents to argue that collaboration between developers was particularly challenging as they had to distinguish themselves on the detail of operation.

However, there was enthusiasm across a number of organisations for collaboration on areas such as: baseline environmental data collection, environmental monitoring, establishing standards and a publicly funded deployment vessel. Responsibility and Key Actions: Whilst it was widely agreed that the industry had to prove the reliability and efficiency of the devices in real conditions over extended periods of time in order to move to wider scale deployment and commercialisation, the focus of responsibility was presented differently. For some respondents, it was up to developers to prove the reliability and value of the industry to UKPLC, for others the Government had to commit to increased levels of funding in order to allow them to do this. Whilst these two issues are clearly related, the alternative framings imply different policy responses.

McLachlan, C.

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