Devices placed on the sea floor can collect energy from passing waves; several designs have been tested, and wave power has touted as a key technology for helping the country achieve a low-carbon, secure UK energy future.

Report Calls for Better Strategy to Make Wave Power Work for the UK

Some $260 million in public money has been spent on R&D since 2000, but the technology hasn’t been commercialized or widely deployed yet.

A new report from Imperial College London and Strathclyde University researchers says a coherent long-term strategy and greater collaboration are required to make wave power work for the UK. Wave energy could contribute significantly to the UK's future energy mix, it says, but only if past mistakes aren’t repeated, they say in it.

Devices placed on the sea floor can collect energy from passing waves; several designs have been tested, and wave power has touted as a key technology for helping the country achieve a low-carbon, secure energy future. But £200m (about $260 million in U.S. dollars) of public money has been spent on R&D since 2000, yet the technology has not yet been commercialized or widely deployed in the UK.

The report highlights key factors behind the failure of wave power technology to mature over the past 15 years, including poor understanding of the challenge, lack of sharing between technology developers, and a lack of appropriate testing facilities. They say lessons learned from this experience have led to a major reconfiguration of support for UK wave energy innovation, including the redesign of government RD&D programs, new networks of key stakeholders, and the addition of new world-class test facilities, all of which mean the UK is now much better situated to develop a commercial wave energy device.

"Following the Paris climate agreement there is a critical need to improve our understanding of how to accelerate low-carbon energy innovation in the most effective manner possible," said Professor Jim Skea, chair in sustainable energy in the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London. "The report points towards two weaknesses in wave innovation that can be remedied: First, the lack of convergence on a dominant design that has been the key to success for other renewable technologies and, second, fragmentation of support across many overlapping schemes."

The report's authors make 10 policy recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the UK’s future support for wave energy innovation, including these:

  • Retaining access to EU research and development funding post-Brexit
  • Developing a long-term wave energy strategy, especially for Scotland
  • Improving coordination of R&D support within and across government
  • Avoiding competition for subsidies with more established technologies, such as offshore wind and tidal stream
  • Support the formation of a niche market for wave energy deployment
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