Running the Renewables Race: Investment Integral to Increasing Capacity

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

Following National Grid’s announcement that 2018 was the first year UK renewable energy capacity surpassed that of fossil fuels, there’s been a something of a shift in the perceived relationship between renewables and fossil fuels.  This was compounded by the release of BP’s annual Energy Outlook 2019 report earlier this year (Feb 2019). Though BP is still committed to its long-term projection of increasing fossil fuel demands, this report offers some telling signs that they’re being forced to revise their forecasts for renewable growth.  Over the last year BP has adjusted its figures for renewable growth, predicting that the sectors will account for 30% of global electricity supplies by 2040 (up 9% on its 2018 prediction). This predicted move to 30% is supported by BP’s declaration that renewables have ‘established a foothold in the global energy system faster than any fuel in history’.

In March a report from Energy Consultancy EnAppSys predicted UK renewables are on course to overtake fossil fuels for the first time by 2020, becoming the ‘dominant’ source of power. Indeed, only two weeks ago, Claire Perry, the UK’s minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, wrote an op-ed for the Daily Telegraph, which heaped praise on the UK’s progress in “delivering renewable clean energy”. This was off the back of a headline-grabbing deal made between the government and the offshore wind sector, predicted to deliver 30% of our energy by 2030 and making the UK “the largest installed wind base in the world attracting huge levels of capital investment”.

It is of course investment that has brought us to this extraordinary place that we’re in today – where the UK is marching towards ever-growing renewable energy abundance. As Claire Perry says, the success of the renewables sector in the UK is increasingly being used as a benchmark for other countries across the world; renewables are booming and intelligent, ambitious investment will fundamentally change our energy sector as well as our environment and economy.

However, our long-term carbon reduction commitments will not be met without further diversification and investment into emerging energy sources – marine energy being a key area.  This view – which has long been touted by leading renewable energy economists, was reiterated in the Marine Energy Report – launched at the House of Commons by Marine Energy UK only last month.

The UK Marine Energy report 2019 provides a vision for our marine energy sector. It reinforces the UK’s position in marine tech development and explains how expansion into areas such as marine energy services, components and technology exports will boost GDI as other countries seek to capitalise on our knowledge and expertise. The report reiterates that as well as the legally binding environmental objectives that marine energy sector can help with, it offers huge economic development potential in peripheral economies. Crucially, ‘50%-60% of the economic benefit of both GVA and jobs is expected to be generated in costal areas in need of economic regeneration’.

The public are certainly not holding back support for marine energy. At the start of the year, a record breaking investment into Orbital Marine Power via the crowdfunding platform Abundance grabbed headlines.  With around 2,300 individuals investing an average of £3,000 in the tidal energy technology developer, Orbital Marine was Abundance’s largest fund-raise to date – illustrating the public’s interest in and support for emerging renewable technologies. With this kind of grass-roots support, the UK’s marine energy sector can flourish – riding the metaphorical wave of innovation and success towards a low-carbon future.

As MPS continue with the development of the full-scale WaveSub, we were encouraged to read a report released last week by the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) entitled ‘A plan for Wales’ renewable energy future: essential actions to re-energise Wales by 2035”. The report calls for a combination of public and private investment to enable Wales to full decarbonise its electricity system in the next 15 years. It outlines Wales’ potential in the renewables sector, outlining how a shift to 100% renewable electricity by 2035 would create over 20,000 jobs and deliver a £7.4bn economic boost for its economy. Within the details of a 10-point plan was a suggested investment-fuelled campaign to enable the installation of 4GW of marine and floating wind turbines.

Perhaps what is most encouraging about the IWA report is its vision. As we stated in our Making Wave Power Work report, ambitious planning is essential to renewable energy progress. With support from the Welsh Government, including ERDF grant funding from WEFO and our investors and shareholders, MPS are dedicated to pushing forward the UK’s marine energy generation sector through our wave energy converter, WaveSub.  As we’ve seen with offshore wind, ambition, support and investment can help transform a burgeoning sector into one that is capable of generating as much as 30% of the UK’s energy – as well as providing environmental and economic benefits at the same time.