The following article is an op-ed piece authored by Richard Arnold, policy director at the UK Marine Energy Council. The article first appeared at Marine Energy Wales.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine emphasises the interrelated nature of climate change action and energy security, and that the escalating cost of fossil fuels can be measured in pounds and dependence.
The UK Government’s response, the British Energy Security Strategy (BESS), commits to aggressively exploring the renewable opportunities that our geography provides. As an island nation, marine energy provides the UK with a rich and predictable resource that can accelerate the transition to a secure, net-zero future.
At first glance, and save a single passing mention, there appears to be little in the BESS for tidal stream and wave energy. Despite tidal projects being delivered with up to 90% UK content, and the BESS seeking to secure ‘a power supply that’s made in Britain, for Britain’, neither wave nor tidal has a set target in a strategy that significantly increases ambition for floating and fixed offshore wind, solar, nuclear and hydrogen.
However, there are positives that tidal stream and wave energy can take from the BESS, including:
A streamlined consenting process
Streamlining the consenting process for wind creates opportunities for tidal stream and wave. The importance of the UK’s announcement in November 2021 of the £20 million tidal stream ringfence in Allocation Round 4 (AR4) of the Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme cannot be overstated. This is a competitive process and the £20 million is expected to deliver 34MW from around 124MW of eligible capacity.
What the industry needs is continued support and a scaling-up in ambition. This in turn requires a significant increase in the amount of eligible capacity that can bid into future rounds.
By aiming to reduce the consenting timescales for offshore wind down from four years to one, the Government is demonstrating it is in listening mode for how these processes can be streamlined. We have an opportune moment in the marine energy sector to engage, highlighting ways in which our consenting process, which currently takes several years, can be streamlined.
The system benefit of tidal stream and wave will likely be considered within the CfD mechanism
Following the BESS, the Government will consult on changes to AR6 to incentivise renewables to locate and operate in a way that minimises system cost. As noted by Coles et al (2021):
‘The cyclic, predictable nature of tidal stream power shows potential to provide additional, whole-system cost benefits. These include reductions in balancing expenditure that are not considered in conventional Levelised Cost of Energy estimates.’
Research by Imperial College London has demonstrated that tidal stream has the potential to deliver around £2 billion broader energy system benefit annually. In addition, wave is more predictable than other renewables and consistently has greater availability than solar or wind.
The CfD mechanism is the Government’s chosen approach to accelerating renewable deployment and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy are in the process of consulting on Supply Chain Plans to encourage an increase in UK content. A whole system view, combined with a closer look at supply chain benefits, are positive for tidal and wave, which have strong stories to tell.
Preparing UK infrastructure for a net zero future
The BESS signals the Government’s support for allowing investment ahead of need in the UK’s electricity networks. Increasing network capacity and avoiding constraints will be key for avoiding delays in renewable deployment. This in addition to the National Shipbuilding Strategy, which is seeking to unlock investment in coastal facilities, infrastructure, innovation and skills, have positive implications for wave and tidal.
Delivering a power supply that’s made in Britain, for Britain
The BESS has had a mixed reception. It signals there is still a significant amount of work required to ensure the Government understands the benefits of, and grasps the opportunities associated with, wave and tidal stream energy.
The importance of a diverse renewable energy mix was highlighted following low wind speeds in 2021, rocketing fossil fuel cost and Russia’s war against Ukraine. As targets for renewables are realised, the predictable nature of wave and tidal, the system benefits that provides, and the opportunity to support local economic growth, presents a unique and compelling offer. Delivering energy security and a power supply that’s made in Britain, for Britain.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Offshore Energy.
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