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Four good reasons to embrace marine energy...

Work to exploit tidal and wave power as part of the renewable energy mix is gathering momentum, with the UK rapidly becoming a knowledge hub. Partly that is because we have the best natural resources - it is estimated that the UK_has around 50% of Europe's tidal energy resource, and our wave potential is none too shabby either. You can see, then, why so much of the world's technology development is focused around our shores, and why the UK is seen as a world leader and focal point for the development of wave and tidal stream technologies.

It's all too easy to dismiss marine energy resources as something that will only ever play a bit part in meeting our energy needs, but I think there's more substance behind it. In fact, I'll give you four good reasons why we should embrace marine energy as quickly as possible. The first is that the 2004 estimate in marine resource potential may well be wrong. It looked only at the UK's theoretical tidal range resource and estimated that it would enough to supply only 12% of current UK electricity demand. That report certainly didn't send investors running for their cheque books, and plans to use public money for investment in a river Severn tidal scheme were put on hold. But technology never stands still, and you can bet that tidal turbines will become ever more efficient and offer ever higher outputs - just as wind turbines have. In addition, no mention was made of the possibilities for for wave power. So the potential contribution of marine energy to our overall demand could be much higher.

Secondly, there is the potential for the UK to become a genuine global leader in marine energy technology, and to export the fruits of that leadership around the world. It's easy to claim leadership in a technology that is only just finding its feet: the hard part is maintaining that leadership when all the really big players enter the game. But the potential is there if have the will and the backing to grasp it.

Slightly more tenuous, but still important, is the ability to offer and benefit from related wave and tidal stream services. It might be frowned upon in some engineering circles to talk about the service industries, but when you have a deep understanding of a particular technology and the market requirements, it's madness not to exploit those assets.

Finally, this is an industry that's still young enough for almost anyone to bring a new idea to the party. Wave technologies are being developed on desktops and in small tanks, on a scale where one spark of an idea can still have a massive impact on overall strategy. For example, a wave power generator that can harvest energy no matter which way the sea is running has just won the UK round of James Dyson's engineering award, netting its designer Sam Etherington £2,000 to create a bigger prototype that will undergo tank tests. Etherington says he came up with the idea while kite surfing, noting that waves rarely travelled in a predictable fashion. It's all small scale, low cost at this stage, and anyone can get in the act. The trick will be to ensure that the UK wave power companies are the ones the world will turn to in the future.

Mark Simms, 10 September 2013

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