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UK ocean energy sector - 2023 in review

The recently-published 2023 UK Ocean Energy Review has hailed 2023 as a “pivotal year” for the UK tidal stream sector, and notes that the UK wave energy sector “continues to lead on the international stage”. “Tidal stream has the potential to make our electricity system more resilient and diverse”, the Review argues, and “wave energy is another promising technology which could further diversify our energy mix”.

The Review, published by the Policy and Innovation Group at Edinburgh University, summarises the state of the UK ocean energy industry, by identifying key UK R&D institutions and projects, test centres, demonstration projects and planned deployments of tidal stream and wave energy.

The key R&D institutions, according to the Review, are Supergen Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Hub, led by the University of Plymouth, which awarded £799,000 to 10 UK research projects at UK institutions through its Flexible Funding scheme in 2023; and the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, the UK’s flagship offshore energy research and innovation centre.

The Review also identifies a range of Key R&D projects, the majority led by or involving UK universities, including: Bionic Adaptive Stretchable Materials for Wave Energy Converters (BASM-WEC), led by Strathclyde University; Co-Design to Deliver Scalable Tidal Stream Energy (CoTide), a programme between the Universities of Oxford, Edinburgh, Strathclyde and Sheffield; Holistic Advanced Prototyping & Interfacing for Wave Energy Control (HAPiWEC), a partnership between the universities of Strathclyde and Edinburgh; FlexWave, led by the University of Plymouth; and EUROPEWAVE (a European project), led by Wave Energy Scotland (WES), Ente Vasco de la Energía (EVE) and Ocean Energy Europe (OEE). 

The development of commercial wave and tidal stream devices requires open sea test sites, ideally providing a range of conditions, and preferably planning pre-consented. Such sites already exist in UK waters, provided by the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC); Morlais, off Anglesey in North Wales; and the Marine Energy Test Area (META) in the Milford Haven Waterway. And there are a number developers with projects already in the water around the British Isles, including: Magallanes Renovables; Orbital Marine Power; MeyGen; Nova Innovation; Mocean; and AWS

Also highlighted by the Review are the milestones for tidal stream and wave energy which were reached in 2023. For tidal, these included the record number of Contracts for Difference (11) awarded to the tidal sector; for wave energy, the Review notes the £18.25 million investment recommended by the Scottish Government's draft energy strategy, and funding awarded to developers including AWS Ocean Energy and WaveX.

Unlike tidal stream, wave energy has not yet benefitted from the Contracts for Difference scheme. However, according to the Review, "developers are increasingly confident that the technology is on the cusp of the levels of technological maturity required to bid for multi-MW contracts. They are also hopeful that a similar ring-fence fund may be established for the wave sector."

One wave energy developer, CorPower Ocean, provides an interesting overview of the sector, which discusses some “key challenges and failures that have shaped the wave energy industry”. This overview notes that “Wave energy devices must operate in harsh and unpredictable ocean environments, making them susceptible to technical challenges related to design, materials, and maintenance”, and suggests that “Due to wave energy’s high risks and uncertainties, the industry has historically struggled to attract sufficient funding and investment to support its growth and development.” CorPower's overview further suggests that “For roll out of wave energy, early projects need financial support, streamlined permitting processes, and clear national targets to attract investments”.

The UK is an island nation, perfectly positioned to take advantage of wave and tidal stream energy as a part of our future energy mix. And with a wealth of experience and expertise, Marks & Clerk's Energy and Environment Group is also perfectly positioned to support developers working to scale up and commercialise ocean energy technology.

The role of wind and solar as the foundation of the UK’s established Net Zero energy system is clearly defined, with long-term targets set and policy support fixed. However, ensuring that the UK delivers a sustainable, diverse and resilient energy mix, that harnesses all our national resources, will be key to achieving Net Zero in a cost-effective manner. To this end, there is now a growing understanding of the role that our abundant wave and tidal stream resources could play in helping to underpin and strengthen our national energy mix.


energy & environment, yes