What Does 2017 Hold for Wave Power?

By Dr Gareth Stockman, Managing Director, Marine Power Systems (MPS).

Recently Dr Graham Foster my Co-Director and I visited The Welsh National Assembly. We were invited to a reception organised by the Port of Milford Haven to both celebrate development in the Milford Haven Waterway and explore further opportunities for industry and employment. Marine Power Systems (MPS) was also used as a case study due to our activity in the Port, production, testing and future plans for our wave energy converter device WaveSub.

Marine Power Systems has increasingly become recognised for its growing contribution to the Welsh economy, thanks in no small part to European and Welsh Government funding for the development of WaveSub.

But, this blog is not focused on our work over the past nine years, more so the year of 2017. Both in terms of what has been and what’s to come. With the past 12 months seeing a record 86% of Europe’s new power from renewables and a US solar sector now employing an unprecedented 260,000, there’s been much in the public domain on the success stories of solar and wind power. As such, I want to offer some insight on the wave power story for 2017.

Here at MPS we’ve been focused on the development of a quarter scale WaveSub for deployment at the Cornish FaBTest site in Falmouth this summer. This is a hugely exciting time for us as an organisation, as our technology will undergo rigorous testing at sea. At this point we will open a new round of fundraising to develop the full-scale, multi-MW technology required for the development of large wave farms from 2020.

In short, 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.

So, let’s take a look at what 2017 has thrown our way so far.

First, in January we saw the UK Energy Technology Institute (ETI) set out its view on marine renewables. Whilst positive about the prospects for tidal power, it seemed somewhat out of sync with real developments in the industry calling for a ‘radical rethink’ and significant innovation to see cost reductions in wave energy before the industry could provide viable grid power. Indeed, it appeared to have been produced without due consultation with the ETI’s own team; who back in 2015 acknowledged to the Welsh Government that cost reductions were indeed around the corner. This was not a wonderful start to the year, but things have thankfully begun to correct themselves as the year has progressed.

Next came the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy outlining a commitment to supporting ‘industries of the future’. It indicates the potential for Marine Renewables to assume a more central role in the UK’s energy future. Focusing on delivering affordable energy and clean power growth, investing in science, research and innovation, the strategy also outlines crucial ambitions for upgrading infrastructure and boosting trade and inward investment. So, positive developments if matched with real budget allocations. Either way, it sent much needed positive indicators to the market.

March saw Renewable UK’s Wave and Tidal Conference in London usher in yet more encouragement. Although a relatively young industry, the UK is at the forefront of the marine power industry thanks to private and public investment of £450 million driving innovation clusters across the country. With 35% of Europe’s wave energy, RenewableUK claims the UK can ‘win the ocean energy race’.  We wholeheartedly agree as does the European trade body Ocean Energy Europe (OEE), who recently claimed that ocean energy can create 400,000 skilled jobs around Europe by 2050. That’s nearly double the solar sector in the US, bringing huge economic wins to us all.

All in all, 2017 has so far been a positive year for Marine Power Systems, with much more to come. We’ll be sharing this optimism and our own progress with WaveSub at The Marine Energy Conference in Swansea, Wales later this week.