Byline: John Hill
IF WAVE and tidal energy is to take hold in the UK, it will almost certainly be founded on technology tested by the National Renewable Energy Centre.
Narec was set up to forge ahead with research into the renewable technologies of the future, and while wind power has won more column inches in recent months, there is still a definite role for wave and tidal energy in meeting Britain's energy needs. Government studies suggest wave and tidal energy could eventually supply up to 20% of the UK's energy needs.
A pounds 15m marine testing facility known as Project Nautilus will be built in Blyth to test-drive components before they are forced to battle the harsh waters and Narec is keen to strengthen links with the two other main marine centres in the UK.
The European Marine Energy Centre (Emec) in Orkney allows developers to test full-scale prototypes in wave and tidal conditions, while North East-based companies CTC Marine and Digital Surveys have already played important roles in the construction of the upcoming Wave Hub development in Cornwall.
As the director of wind and marine for Narec, Stephen Wilson recognises the potential of wave and tidal power, but stresses that Government support is crucial to maintaining Britain's reputation as a hub for new marine breakthroughs. He says: "The wave and tidal energy sector is not significant at the moment. Nobody claims to be able to replicate coal-fired power stations at this time. But the UK has a world-leading resource available to it. Wave and tide is globally significant and the UK Government has ambitions for a low-carbon economy.
"The UK is leading the world in wave and tidal power technology, just as it used to do with wind. Where it went wrong with wind power was that in the 70s the UK government withdrew its support for technological development while the Danish and Germans did not. The UK government learns from its mistakes and it now recognises that to maintain its lead it needs to offer a number of incentives."
Among the incentives on offer are Renewable Obligation Certificates, which generators are awarded for renewable energy they produce. Wilson says the money for the ROC scheme has been secured from the government, while bodies such as the Technology Strategy Board, the Carbon Trust and the Energy Technologies Institute offer funding for innovation and technology development. The centre is also involved in research on the environmental drawbacks and benefits of installing wave and tidal technology.
He says: "It's difficult in a time of cuts but funding levels need to be maintained if not increased. …