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12 May 2015

Moving marine energy across the cleantech valley of death

Written by: Nick Hay, Director at Edelman

Energy, Technology

We don’t say it enough… the UK is the world leader in marine renewable energy. Sitting as we do at the head of the gulfstream, we were relatively quick to clock the potential to harness marine resources as a power source.

Commercialising wave and tidal represents a colossal global prize. A UK marine energy industry (supplying a domestic and global market) has been valued at over £6 billion per annum; providing 19,500 jobs.

Hearing from wave and tidal experts at All Energy, the UK’s largest renewables event last week, it seems the industry is suffering from a lack of market confidence.

The last 6 months has been tough. Siemens divested of its tidal power unit in November, then figurehead wave project, Pelamis, sank in December. However, the current trough is characteristic of the development wave that all emerging technology must undergo. The downward slope represents a necessary stage on the pathway to a commercial product.

Regaining confidence is critical for securing the private sector investment to get marine technology on the upward slope. Setting out the commercial pathway and drip feeding milestones is key. But now more than ever the triple bottom line benefits of marine need to be positioned in the context of the rapidly shifting energy status quo.

With global carbon dioxide levels surpassing 400 ppm for first time in five million years, the urgency has never been greater to decarbonise electricity. Just last week, Bank of America outlined its plans to downsize coal financing, highlighting that its renewable energy portfolio is more than three times as large as its coal extraction portfolio.

Intense media focus on the volatility of oil, and “unburnable carbon” is pushing some investors to seek out new bankable, low carbon investments. The rich array of marine assets up and running in UK waters is a valuable platform for dialogue to allay private sector uncertainty; making investors more comfortable with the technology, as well as the balance of risk. A proactive dialogue between investors and innovators now seems like a top priority for the marine industry for its next stage of growth.

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