Unchartered Territories: Building the UK Into a 21st Century Maritime Nation

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

Following the news that the WaveSub was successfully launched in January, we’ve been busy working through a suite of initial tests to confirm the device is absolutely ready to move into the next phase of testing at FaBTest. The outcome of these tests has been highly encouraging. We are now able to confirm that the device can be remotely controlled from shore through our specialised control & communication system and in addition that key hydraulic components are functioning as expected well. A series of tow trials in Milford Haven, with assistance from Leask Marine, enabled us to identify the optimum tow speed for the WaveSub. Our recent submergence test demonstrated the WaveSub can be controlled remotely and positioned at an optimum location in the water column, according to sea-state. Finally, we’ve tested and proven that the WaveSub can be boarded for maintenance in moderate wave climates. Confirming this particular test is a real milestone; sea-based maintenance is a defining feature of the device. It keeps maintenance costs low which, in turn, ensures the LCOE of the WaveSub remains competitive.

It hasn’t all been about tests. At the end of March, Dr Graham Foster presented at Marine Energy Wales’ Annual Conference in Cardiff. The event, which MPS proudly sponsors, enjoyed its largest ever turnout – an indication that that the Welsh marine energy sector is gathering momentum. At Milford Haven we recently received the delivery of our four Vryhoff drag embedment anchors. These impressive anchors will be accompanying us on the journey down to FaBTest, prior to installation; their purpose to keep the WaveSub moored in position. Finally, we’re delighted to announce that MPS has opened its second office, in Cornwall. Located closer to FaBTest and Wave Hub, it represents a key expansion for MPS as we enter the next exciting phase of R&D for the WaveSub.

As a company whose brand is intrinsically linked to the sea, the recent Foresight Future of the Sea report was of particular interest to us. Commissioned by the UK Government’s Office of Science, it opens with a compelling reminder that the sea is embedded in our culture and history. We are reminded that the UK and its territories are blessed with one of the largest marine spaces of any country in the world.

Referencing one of our greatest maritime explorers, Captain James Cook, the report takes a moment to consider the life of a man who pushed the boundaries of marine exploration in a way that helped define our modern world. Cook’s life was dedicated to furthering a collective understanding of science and global geography. The report uses this inquiring and exploratory tone as it poses the question – What will it mean for the UK to be a successful maritime nation in the 21st century and beyond?

This question sets the focus for the full report, which works around four major ‘structural issues’ under which it states the UK, as a modern maritime nation, must develop. Under a number of sub-themes including Economy, Environment and Governance, the report outlines its key long-term trends and recommendations that need to be addressed if its vision of future success is to be delivered.

Of particular interest to MPS were its recommendations for the UK’s future position within a global ocean economy, whose value is set to double in the next 12 years, reaching an estimated $3trillion (£2.14tn) by 2030. The report states that the UK’s existing industries and emerging marine sectors are estimated to be worth around £47bn gross value added. New industries such as marine renewables are, it says, crucial to national economic progress. It urges that the UK Government ‘capitalise on the significant potential of the offshore renewable energy sector, building on and learning from the UK’s experience in offshore wind. Not only this, the report states that the Government should ‘promote innovation and growth in order to generate economic growth, build a UK supply chain, reduce emissions to meet UK climate change ambitions and support local communities.

The report makes an environmental and economic argument for a long-term approach to decision making, before stating that the marine environment is a shared space and as such, trade, security and economic opportunities are shared with global partners. The UK’s long-term success is therefore dependent on action and collaboration not only at a national level but an international level too.

All this phraseology resonates strongly with MPS, which has accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience in the growing wave energy sector. Today, the UK’s marine science, engineering and research facilities are some of the best in the world. Collaborations between academic institutions and industry partners are already well established – our longstanding relationship with Plymouth University being a case in point, as well as the welcome support that we’ve received from the Welsh Government.

Overall the report offers a determined call to action. It outlines how coordination via industry, academia, government and public is essential if we are to progress through this century at a pace and standard of success that we’re so well placed to secure. Speaking as the Director of a renewable tech company, at the forefront of an emerging renewable energy sector, what we ultimately need from Government is a commitment to set up support mechanisms to help augment innovation and spur on economic growth. Wave energy has so much potential to contribute to this maritime success story. If technology is given the support mechanisms that wind (both on and offshore) and solar were given, then the renewable energy mix of the UK can become more diverse and more secure whilst simultaneously helping to hit carbon reduction targets. Wave energy can become one of the pillars that support a successful maritime nation of the future. MPS are working towards this goal. It can – and will – happen.