Nascent U.S. Marine Energy Industry Can Benefit from UK Know How

Underwater turbineBy Michael Rosenfeld, UK Trade & Investment

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released two reports on the potential of harnessing energy from wave and tidal resources in U.S. waters. The reports found that by 2030 up to 15 percent of the nation’s energy needs could be provided by hydropower, including wave and tidal. As the U.S. looks to grow its emerging marine energy industry, the UK can serve as both a model of how to support industry growth and as a potential partner for gaining the necessary know how and expertise to jumpstart the U.S. market.

Surrounded on all sides by water, the UK has vast wave and tidal power resources. In fact, The Crown Estate has estimated that tidal and wave power capacity in the UK amounts to more than 150 gigawatts, enough to meet 20 percent of current electricity demand. This abundant natural resource, combined with the British Government’s commitment to fostering clean energy sources, has created a favorable environment for companies to test technologies and bring their innovations to market.

Already being looked to as archetypes for similar programs in North America, Japan and even South Korea, are the marine energy parks – or “test beds” – the UK has established. These research centers provide a training ground for wave and tidal power companies to collaborate with market leaders, test and hone technologies, and improve their business models.

Examples include the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), part of the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Marine Energy Park in Scotland, and the South West Marine Energy Park in Great Britain, which includes Wave Hub, an electrical hub on the seabed to which wave energy devices can be connected. Wave Hub provides shared offshore infrastructure for the demonstration of wave energy generation devices over a sustained period of time.

The world is taking notice of what is happening in the UK.  These research centers and demonstration projects are attracting power players like Siemens and Alstom, who are flocking to the UK to collaborate with academia and government on advancing ocean power technologies. This presents an enormous opportunity for U.S.-based companies to go overseas to build and test marine energy technologies at scale, team up with global counterparts, and then bring the know-how back to the U.S. to help develop the market here.

At the same time, those companies that have already been engaged in test bed efforts can bring that expertise to the U.S. market as it begins to take shape. Consider UK-based MeyGen Ltd., which recently was awarded a £10 million capital grant by the Department of Energy and Climate Change to develop its demonstration array to produce 86 MW of power. Another company to watch is Nautricity, which is pioneering a simpler, lighter turbine that can be easily deployed from small vessels. Testing of this device is underway now with commercial deployment off the coast of Scotland anticipated for 2014.

Or Scotland-based Pelamis Wave Power, which has pioneered the world’s first export of electricity from an offshore wave energy converter to the onshore grid. The Energy Technology Institute (ETI) recently awarded Pelamis Wave Power £1.4 million to fund development work to enhance cost effectiveness of wave energy converter arrays. These companies are well positioned to consult on U.S. wave or tidal projects, much like UK offshore wind companies are currently doing for U.S. projects like Cape Wind.

Global collaboration is one of the best ways to advance new clean technologies and help low carbon markets grow, to the benefit of our environment and our economy.  In the spirit of collaboration, DOE followed its two reports with the release last month of a new online database of marine energy learnings around the world to serve as resource to ocean power developers.

Although the marine energy market is still very new in the U.S., the potential is clearly there. By learning from and working with each other, the UK and U.S. can spur innovation and unlock the full potential of this clean, efficient energy resource.

Michael Rosenfeld is Vice Consul – Senior Director USA Clean Technology Sector for UK Trade & Investment, the British Government’s international business development department.

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