The rise in the oil price shows us how important it is to find sustainable energy sources. But are the risks of wave power worth taking?
By George Eustice MP
The coalition agreement has committed this government to being the greenest government yet and many leading cabinet ministers have said that there is no industry more important than marine renewables. This is why I was extremely pleased to secure a Westminster Hall debate last week on the funding for technology innovation in wave power.
The potential for this fledgling industry is massive. The Carbon Trust has estimated that wave power could eventually meet between 15% and 20% of our current power needs and that, given time, it might produce enough electricity to power 11 million homes. Furthermore, with the ongoing development of this exciting new energy resource comes a great deal of economic potential. It is estimated that the industry could be worth £2 billion by 2050, and that it could create 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.
The UK is currently a world leader in the field of wave and tidal energy development, with around 25% of the world's technology development taking place on our coastline. The next few months are crucial for the wave power industry - the marine renewables deployment fund (MRDF) will be phased out in March 2011. This wholly unsatisfactory fund was set up by the previous government, but was notoriously difficult to access; the current, Conservative-led government have initiated a review under the technology strategy board for technology innovation grants, and have also announced the new idea of technology innovation centres (TICs). Whereas it was absolutely right to get rid of the MRDF, it is important that the industry has a firm idea of the funding that will be available to it, and, most pressingly, the criteria that will be applied to be eligible for it. I hope that in the next few weeks and months the government make this information available, and that it sends a strong signal to the private sector to increase their backing.
My constituency is home to the wave hub project, based in Hayle - the first of its kind in the world. It enables contractors to test arrays of wave power devices at deep-water locations and already has one company signed up to plug into the hub. Currently the maximum power that could be produced by each device is four or five MW, but it will be possible, over time, to expand capacity so that the wave hub could feed no less than 50 MW into the national grid. I also represent the Peninsular Research Institute for Marine Renewable Energy (PRIMaRE) based at the Tremough campus near Falmouth at which academics from Exeter University are doing a lot of important research and testing crucial to the wave power industry. I hope that both of these fantastic facilities are able to benefit fully from the technology innovation initiative.
The whole reason for having public subsidies and public investment in these areas is to bridge the gap between risk and potential. When it comes to wave power, we have extraordinary potential, but also a large risk in that it is very difficult to develop and test devices to use out at sea in necessarily difficult conditions. The government's role should be to bridge that divide. As we see the price of fossil fuels and conventional energy sources rising it is clear that the future of our energy requirements will be one that is based on a range of sustainable and renewable sources. Wave power has the potential to be a key component of this, and it is good to see the government recognise this.
George Eustice is the Conservative MP for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle.
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