Thursday, 24 February 2011

The funding for technology in wave power

Last week I managed to secure a debate on parliament on the future of the wave power industry. In Cornwall, we have a resource of wave power that is second to none. The Atlantic swell is powerful but the conditions are not too extreme. Wave Hub in Hayle is the first test facility of its type anywhere in the world. It will allow us to develop arrays of commercial scale wave power devices at deep water locations and gives us the opportunity to be world beaters.

It has been estimated that wave power could eventually meet between 15 and 20% of Britain’s power needs and produce enough electricity to power 11 million homes. With all of this comes economic potential. The industry could be worth £2 billion by 2050 creating more than 16,000 jobs. Some analysts have gone as far as to suggest that wave and tidal power industries together might employ 10,000 people by as early as 2020. This would be good news for Hayle but we have a lot of hurdles to clear first and the industry is probably still another 5-10 years away from being perfected.

The Camborne and Redruth constituency is also home to PRIMaRE which is an academic centre in marine energy based at the university at Tremough and there are some very good courses in renewable energy being run at Cornwall College. I visited Tremough last summer. They were doing research into the moorings needed to anchor these devices 10-12 miles out at sea. Our coastline is famously choppy and, at times, can be severe enough to wreck boats so developing the right moorings is an important task.

In the short term, we need to focus on getting devices in the water at Hayle. Currently one operator, Ocean Power Technologies, has signed an agreement to take one of the four plugs available on Wave Hub. We need to get three other technology developers in place as soon as possible to maintain momentum.
The point I was making in the debate was that support was needed for technology innovation to get the industry to the next level. The last government launched what it called the Marine Renewable Deployment Fund but there were so many conditions attached that no one ever managed to access it successfully. I am generally sceptical about giving out government subsidies. However, where they do have a role is when you have projects with huge potential but high short term risks. Government investment in research and development in such situations can kick start new industries and draw in many times more private investment.

The new government recognises that and is introducing Technology Innovation Centres to drive the development of new industries. We might just have one of the first of these new research and development hubs here in the south west to develop wave power.