Wales, making waves in the marine energy sector

Port of Holyhead, Anglesey, Wales. September 2nd 2016. Ulysees ferry leaving the Port of Holyhead, Anglesey, Wales UK

© Shutterstock

The Welsh coast features a significant wave and tidal stream climate, as well as huge opportunities for tidal range, and with over €100 million of EU structural funds prioritised for marine energy in Wales, two array scale demonstration zones, seabed agreements in place for 3 separate tidal projects and a number of proposals for tidal range projects, it comes as no surprise that Wales has the potential to be a world-leader in the marine energy market.

 

We were therefore eager to support the Marine Energy Wales Annual Conference which moved to Cardiff for the first time. Attracting over 200 delegates from the marine energy developer community plus key stakeholders such as Welsh Government, Milford Haven Port Authority, the Offshore Renewables Energy Catapult and the Pembrokeshire and Anglesey demonstration zone projects. It seemed particularly fitting to support this event, given that Wales celebrates Year of Sea throughout 2018.

 

During the conference, we teamed up with Marine Energy Wales to provide a platform to allow delegates to easily meet and network through facilitated 1-2-1 meetings, enabling and encouraging collaboration, cooperation and consortium building between delegates, which received excellent feedback with delegates already reporting that they have agreed to work together as a result of the meeting.

 

The conference aimed to showcase the progress being made in Wales as well as outlining future plans and opportunities, here are just a few of the key points we picked up:

 

Learn from previous mistakes…

 

The plea was made repeatedly that the UK should not make the same mistakes as were made with wind energy, whereby a leading position was squandered with the result that wind turbine engineering and production is now a major industry in Denmark, employing tens of thousands of skilled people and generating billions of Euros of income for the Danish economy.

 

Encouraging progress made…

 

€100.4m of EU structural funding has been earmarked for development towards a viable marine energy cluster in Wales and it was encouraging to hear of the progress made both by developers and by those administering what appears to be a relatively complex mix of procedures and permissions directed at creating a workable pathway for developers to get their prototypes into offshore waters for extended and rigorous testing.

 

The tortoise or the hare…?

 

Developers were keen to share news of their progress towards potentially commercially viable products in what is largely still the pre-commercial phase of development of this budding industry. Although there is clearly competition to demonstrate progress ahead of the pack, it is quite possible that it may be the tortoises rather than the hares that ultimately win the race when the inevitable shakeout of the weaker designs & business models happens.

 

Demonstration zones will be vital…

 

Water is some 800 times denser than air which means that the flow-related pressures exerted on submerged energy-generating devices by even quite slow-moving water can be similar to those experienced by wind turbines in gale force winds. Add then the uncertainties around stormy, turbulent sea conditions and submerged debris, vegetation etc. and it becomes clear that demonstration zones are going to be absolutely vital for developers to be able to deploy, evaluate, recover, improve and redeploy until designs are resilient, adaptable and can demonstrate a high probability of generating sufficient energy throughout their working lives to provide compelling investment payback models.

 

The unforgiving nature of the offshore deployment environment dictates that the designs on show tended to be massively engineered with some weighing tens of tonnes and with development budgets extending to millions of pounds. This really is frontier engineering on display and the engineers and investors involved must be as resilient as the systems they seek to create.

 

What next?

 

At the EEN stand, networking breaks gave us the opportunity to meet innovative companies from the sector, as well as providing a chance to catch up with old connections. Having included relevant live opportunities from the EEN partnership opportunities database on the stand, by the time it came to the end of the day only a few remained.

 

We are now looking forward to working with some of the interesting companies we met, to help them reach their international ambitions and to contributing to the progress being made in such a thriving sector.