Globalizing marine energy

Neil Kermode

June 1, 2015

This past year has undoubtedly been one of the most challenging experienced by the marine energy industry in its short life, with some of our colleagues within the wave sector hardest hit.

Neil Kermode.

However, as an emerging industry working in the most extreme of environments, setbacks are par for the course. Technology developers have known this from the outset, yet they’ve remained undaunted, approaching the task in hand with determination and energy.

Writing a new chapter in the global energy story was never going to be easy, but that goal we are all striving for — of meeting a significant proportion of the world’s energy needs cleanly and from a perpetual resource — is now tantalizingly close with commercial array testing fast approaching.

In Orkney, Scotland, we’ve witnessed the shift from hypothetical potential to the actual reality of what the industry can achieve, with around 300 people employed locally in around 40 different companies. As a case study for marine renewables, the rest of the world is paying very close attention to what’s happening in our peripheral community.

At the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), we are working closely with countries across the Americas, Asia, Australasia and Europe to support the establishment of a global network of test sites that, I believe, will lead to a community of interest with common approaches to the business of marine energy.

The establishment of common global standards, developed by worldwide experience, is critical to the development of a global marine renewables industry. One only has to travel overseas and attempt to plug in a computer or other electronic device to realize the difficulties that will likely occur if we do not work at this together.

Each country established its own standards for plugs and sockets in isolation and the end result is pointless diversity of detail in the simple plugs throughout the world.

Marine energy devices are no different. In time, wave and tidal technologies will find their markets in dozens of countries and EMEC wants this to be as easy as possible both for the technology developers at EMEC and the ultimate customers here and overseas. We want a wave or tidal device that is certified at EMEC to be immediately marketable in any country, without expensive and time consuming re-validation.

Critical to this is the development of a standard approach to performance and resource assessment. If technologies invented in the UK and developed here at EMEC are to become established as global products, then it is vital that each international test center uses the same standards so investors can compare results from one center with results at another.

Each country has its own unique conditions, both physical and political, and exploring these challenges simultaneously will enable marine energy technologies to colonize these optimum niches more rapidly than if tackled in isolation.

Alongside technology development, we need to be able to assist policy makers. A tremendous technology is useless if there is nowhere to put it and, as our experience in Scotland has shown, policy has a central role to play in creating a marine energy market.

Each country with marine resources will have to think about policy measures for seabed leasing, environmental impact assessment, grid infrastructure, grants and tariffs. Scotland’s experience and expertise in these areas is already being sought around the world and trade is being developed because of it.

Scotland has led the way in harvesting energy from the sea so far, but now Canada, Chile, China, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, the US, many European countries and others are all in the business of establishing their own national infrastructures — having sought EMEC’s advice and consultancy services as they establish their own testing centers.

No one said that marine energy was going to be easy. However, this network of worldwide test centers will foster global market development, create common standards and enable the progress of wave and tidal energy into the global mix.

Neil Kermode was appointed as managing director in November 2005. Before EMEC, Kermode worked as a project developer of a tidal scheme in Orkney following six years at an environment agency dealing with regulation and development issues, particularly relating to public participation in decisions on flooding, waste and water resources. He was a keen scuba diver and is a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers and a Chartered Environmentalist.