Can Welsh Marine Energy Really Boost the Economy?

By Dr Gareth Stockman, Chief Executive Officer, Marine Power Systems (MPS)

The end of March this year saw a flurry of activity in the Welsh marine sector. All eyes seemed to be on the industry to lift economic prospects, not just in South Wales but across the whole of the UK.

The Prime Minister arrived in our home City of Swansea, signing the Swansea City Bay Regional Deal , pledging to mobilise up to £1.3bn in a host of low carbon and sustainable initiatives along the south Wales coast including the £76 million Pembroke Dock Marine project. Then followed the £324,000 backing of what will be the world’s largest wave energy site, the Pembrokeshire Demonstration Zone, by the Welsh Government.

Marine Energy Wales stated that marine developers active in Wales will invest £1.4bn over the next five years if the right incentives are in place. Quite an end to the month. But how much can Welsh Marine Energy really boost the economy?

Published ahead of the Marine Energy Wales Conference in Swansea, the ‘Marine Energy in Wales: Investment, Jobs, Supply Chain 2017’ report forecasts major growth for wave, tidal stream and tidal lagoons with appropriate market and development incentives. The report states total direct investment in marine in Wales has risen to £68.3m. That represents an increase of over £23m from 2015. The marine sector directly supports 137 full time equivalent jobs, 101 more jobs than two years ago.

Speaking at Marine Energy Wales on 30th March, Welsh cabinet secretary for infrastructure and economy Ken Skates reiterated the potential: ‘We have a truly excellent hub of supply chain businesses and facilities in Wales that are ready and able to take advantage of opportunities in the sector.’

‘We therefore aim to build on Wales’ reputation, working in partnership with industry, to ensure we are not only ‘open for business’, but are once again seen as a global centre for energy. Not only as a generator of marine energy but as an exporter of knowledge, technologies and services.

Plenty of positive messages from government and business alike, giving much hope for the development of the sector in the future. And, the truth is there is much potential here in Wales, the UK, Europe and beyond with Renewable UK recently stating that the UK can provide 35% of Europe’s wave power.

However, perhaps the most poignant words were from David Jones, Director of Marine Energy Wales. Who offered a word of caution amongst the enthusiasm. He rightly said that once the UK lead in wind power. But, policy support was withdrawn at a key stage. Denmark is now in the lead, with a workforce of 28,000 generating £5 billion a year in exports.

I agree. We have witnessed the ups and downs of both the wind and solar sector across the world, and it’s time for us all to learn the lessons and go forward with purpose and knowledge. Echoing the words of Ocean Energy Europe and RenewableUK, to provide long term jobs and reliable, low cost electricity we need:

1) Policy stability and consistent financial support, with marine energy firmly in the UK’s Industrial Strategy and wider global energy ambitions

2) Joined up communications across the industry and meaningful public support

3) Investor confidence and action

Here at MPS we’re focused on the development of a quarter scale WaveSub for deployment at the FaBTest site in Cornwall, this summer. At this point we will open a new round of fundraising to develop the full-scale, multi-MW technology required for the deployment of large wave farms from 2020.

Our mission is to make affordable, reliable and scalable wave energy technology to power communities across the world. We’re doing this by addressing the core challenges facing the industry: energy capture; survivability; transportation, operation and maintenance and reduced capital costs. Whilst we’re driving hard at cost reductions to hit our target of being competitive with offshore wind energy, which we believe is fully achievable, the wider market, investment confidence and policy framework remains more important than ever.

Simply, support for wave energy must remain. Once this is in place, investment should equal jobs and a meaningful industry; not only bringing prosperity to Wales, but showing the way for UK Industry and beyond. Let us not suffer the fate of other British renewables with up down policy, here one day gone the next. Let’s keep momentum up, informed by what has gone before us and then Welsh Marine Energy can indeed boost the economy.