The tide of change

As the UK’s leading renewable energy trade association, RenewableUK represents a leading voice in championing renewable energy as a key component in tackling climate change. Andrew Dann speaks with Wave and Tidal Development Manager, Dee Nunn regarding the role played by tidal energy in addressing this complex issue

Today more than ever climate change is a critical concern for governments all over the world. This was recently highlighted by the Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Climate Change, Professor Sir David King, in his keynote speech at RenewableUK’s annual conference in Liverpool on October 7th 2015. During his address Sir David discussed the importance of renewable energy, describing it as ‘key to tackling the huge risk posed by climate change’ as well as ‘a big part of the British economy which will continue to grow.’ As a former Government Chief Scientific Advisor, the Professor was speaking ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference scheduled to take place in Paris at the end of October 2015. While speaking to senior figures within the renewable industry, he further described 2015 as a ‘seminal year for the planet’, observing that while the UK continues to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, during 2014 more renewable energy capacity was installed worldwide than fossil fuels. However he further mentioned that there remains a significant gap to be bridged within the global energy market to allow the future preservation of the environment.

RenewableUK was founded during 1978 as the British Wind Energy Association to focus solely on the concerns of the emerging wind industry. Later during 2004 it was decided that the association should incorporate wave and tidal energy into its remit before the trade association took its present name later during 2010. “The intention was to focus on the synergies between the offshore wind, wave and tidal energy sectors and the challenges that those technologies were facing in the offshoreenvironment. Furthermore a lot of companies that wereactive in wind energy had also expressed an interest in tidal and wave energy, so it made sense to address them,” Dee explains. “Today our role is really to maximise the deployment of these technologies by acting as a central point of information. We provided a united voice for the renewable sector by bringing together the views of our membership and providing a clear message. RenewableUK carries out networking and talks to the government and media. This can involve research and the organisation of events including the Wave and Tidal Conference, which is February 2016 and during 2016 we will also be hosting the International Conference of Ocean Energy.”

In line with its mission to champion the generation, development and use of renewable power, RenewableUK is committed to empowering the future growth of the wind, tidal and wave power generation industries. For example, it continues to be a key supporter of projects such as the groundbreaking Seagen tidal stream generator that has been in operation in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland since 2008, generating over 9GWh as of March 2014. Furthermore the world’s first tidal stream array (a series of identical devices in the water, rather than just one of them) is currently under construction within the UK. The MeyGen Inner Sound project is located in Pentland Firth, Scotland and there are several other wave and tidal stream array projects currently under development in the UK. The sector has ambitions to develop ten arrays reaching financial close by 2020 across Europe, with the UK well placed to capture the lion’s share of development in its waters.

MeyGen Limited intends to deploy up to 398MW of offshore tidal stream turbines to supply clean and renewable electricity to Britain’s National Grid by the early 2020s. The initial stage of the project will deploy a demonstration array of up four turbines, generating 1.5MW as a precursor to subsequent development of the remaining lease area. This will allow MeyGen to develop proof of concept and later begin to seek investment for the project’s first phase, which will consist of some 86 turbines that will generate 86MW. During the initial array development the project will employ a ‘deploy and monitor strategy’ over its first two years to provide information regarding interactions between the array and the environment to increase the understanding for subsequent phases. “The initial 6MW generated by MeyGen will be comprised of four 1.5MW turbines. Three of those are Andritz Hydro Hammerfest (AHH) HS1000 turbines, while the other is an Atlantis Resources Limited (ARL) AR1500 turbine,” Dee elaborates. “This is a demonstration of two different technology types in one project and helps us to develop understanding of the technology and build confidence in the market. We would certainly like to see more arrays to help develop confidence in the development of the next stage of MeyGen.”

RenewableUK is also a leading representative and ambassador for tidal lagoon technology. On 9th June 2015 the Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd approved a planning application for Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. Negotiations over financial support for the scheme through a ‘Contract for Difference’ are currently on going, with support being sought for the initial 35 years of the project. Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon has a projected operational life of 120 years and it has been suggested that it could usher in a new tidal lagoon industry within the UK. This potential landmark could be reached as soon as mid-2016 with the completion of what would be the world’s first tidal lagoon.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) estimates that wave and tidal stream energy combined has the potential to deliver around 20 per cent of the UK’s current electricity needs, equating to an installed capacity of around 30-50GW. RenewableUK is keenly aware of the potential benefits of both wave and tidal energy in reducing carbon emissions and safeguarding the environment, while ensuring that the UK’s energy demands are still met. “With regards to tidal energy specifically, studies carried out by the Carbon Trust have shown that tidal energy has the potential supply around six per cent of the UK’s total energy supply, which is quite a significant proportion. This figure relates to the use of tidal stream energy, however recently there has also been strong development in the use of tidal lagoons,” she explains. “For example a study has been undertaken on tidal lagoons that estimates that eight per cent of the UK’s energy could also be generated through the implementation of tidal lagoon technology. One of the advantages of these lagoons is the high level of predictability of tidal power, which can be predicted for years in advance. This is a level of predictability that can be planned and accounted for much further ahead than other forms of renewable energy.”

As a catalyst for policy change to support the maximum deployment of wind, wave and tidal energy in the shortest possible time, RenewableUK is keen to demonstrate the strengths and benefits of these technologies to the UK as a whole. As wind power continues to grow in popularity and increase its presence and connectivity to the National Grid, it is hoped that as faith grows in both wave and tidal power as proven technologies, these combined disciplines will provide a significant proportion of the UK’s power using shared infrastructure.

One of challenges in deploying wave and tidal energy at present is connectivity to existing energy infrastructure, which is an issue that RenewableUK is aware of and confident that the renewable industry can overcome. “It can very tricky to build a cable to offshore locations, because operators require justification to the taxpayer or bill payer to ensure that are not building what is known as a ‘stranded asset’ that is not connected to anything. This can be a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation in that operators want to build infrastructure but there is no asset in place, while projects are unable to go ahead because assets do not line up with grid connection,” she concludes. “However by continuing to develop and prove wave and tidal power it will be possible to encourage further investment in connection infrastructure to these technologies.”

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