Wave energy generators have the potential to play a huge role in our net zero future. Here in the UK, with our abundance of areas for testing and utilisation of wave energy generators, we have established ourselves as a world leader with this technology ever since testing of this tech began on our shores in the mid-seventies.
While this introduction may seem a glowing example of one way in which the UK is progressing towards net zero, it also poses a major question - If we have been actively exploring this technology for almost fifty years, and we have an abundance of sea-space for testing and utilizing this technology, why are Britannia’s waves not currently keeping the lights on?
This is largely a blend of two factors. The first, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a lack of funding. Limited and/or intermittent funding over the years has hindered the research, development and commercialization efforts of wave energy generators. Further, the development and deployment of wave energy generators is expensive. The costs associated with designing, building, and testing prototypes, as well as the challenges of installing and maintaining devices in offshore environments, contribute to the slow progress.
The second is the relative technological immaturity of wave energy generators compared to other sources of renewable energy. Ongoing research and experimentation are still needed to address technical challenges, improve efficiency, and enhance reliability.
These high costs coupled with this relative immaturity of the technology can make private investors wary of putting their money in, as they see that any return on their investment may not be realized for a number of years.
Therefore, if we have a technology with such great energy producing potential - but which is being restrained by a lack of private investment, is it time to turn to the public for help?
It appears there is a strong case for doing so, with a public ownership model looking to be a great fit for realizing the potential of this technology – with such a model also having potential to pay great dividends for the public in the long run.
A large part of this model would be public ownership (and strategic management) of wave energy generator intellectual property (IP), wherein a public ownership model could help significantly in advancing the development of wave energy generators, fostering innovation, and addressing the challenges inherent in this emerging sector.
For example, public funding can be directed toward research and development initiatives aimed at improving the efficiency, reliability, and cost-effectiveness of wave energy technologies. Governments could establish or provide additional funding to grant programs, subsidies, and research partnerships, to support companies engaged in the development of novel wave energy solutions. This funding can accelerate the pace of innovation and help overcome technical barriers.
Publicly owned intellectual property (such as patents) generated from such publicly funded research programs can then be strategically leveraged to encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing within the industry. Establishing a repository of open-source or publicly accessible intellectual property related to wave energy can create a collaborative environment where researchers and developers can build upon each other's work. This approach promotes the sharing of best practices, accelerates technological advancements, and reduces redundancy in research efforts. Once the technology at the heart of any IP rights is proven and brought to market, the IP may also be licensed to third parties, either locally or globally, to bring a revenue into the public purse.
Publicly owned IP can also be used to establish standards and guidelines for wave energy technologies. By setting industry standards, governments can create a framework that fosters interoperability, ensures safety, and facilitates the integration of various wave energy solutions into existing energy infrastructure. Standardization can contribute to cost reductions, improve reliability, and attract private investment by providing a clear regulatory framework.
Public funding mechanisms, when coupled with publicly owned IP, can also encourage the establishment of research and development centres dedicated to wave energy, or enhance existing centres such as Wave Energy Scotland by providing a steady cash flow. Wave Energy Scotland has already proven how successful these hubs can be for collaboration, bringing together experts from academia, industry, and government to collectively address technical challenges – and advance wave energy generators towards their potential. By providing access to shared resources and expertise, centres such as Wave Energy Scotland can accelerate the development of scalable and commercially viable wave energy technologies – ultimately advancing us towards our net zero goals.
Therefore, it is likely a strategic combination of public funding and the responsible management of publicly owned IP can catalyse the development of wave energy generators, and help this technology reach its true potential. By fostering collaboration, setting industry standards, and supporting research and development initiatives, public funding can play a pivotal role in propelling wave energy technology from the laboratory to widespread implementation, generating new public income streams for the UK, and contributing to the more sustainable and diversified energy landscape we are looking for.