The global demand for energy shows no sign of slowing. Across the world, nations are using power in ever-expanding quantities and in new sectors, such as the widespread electrification of transport. But growing awareness of our climate crisis has resulted in national and international agreements around clean and renewable energy generation. That is prompting science, governments and industry to increasingly cast their nets towards the oceans.
Offshore renewable energy (ORE) has long been recognised as having huge potential. Since the 1970s, for example, wave energy has been recognised as a sustainable and clean way of powering our homes, industries and communities. Our own research now suggests it could provide at least 15% of the UK’s annual electricity and similarly, the UK has the second-highest tidal range in the world and there are estimates that around 50% of Europe's tidal energy resource lies in UK waters.
The UK’s offshore wind infrastructure, meanwhile, contributed 9.8% of the UK's power in the third quarter of 2019. The 2019 Offshore Wind Sector Deal committed the UK to building up to 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, with an ambition of increasing exports fivefold to £2.6 billion. It has recently been superseded by the UK Government’s Energy White Paper, which increases this target to 40 gigawatts.
To help the country meet its Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050, all these forms of ORE will be required. So although they are at different stages of maturity, the need to maintain and accelerate research and development is paramount.
The conditions right around the UK coastline – particularly in the Shetlands, Pentland Firth and Orkney, Hebrides, Pembrokeshire, South West England, and the North Sea – remain more than capable of supporting the necessary wave and tidal energy developments.
As an early leader, the UK wave energy sector has accumulated considerable experience, expertise and knowledge from the development and deployment of various prototypes and has a strong community of academics and industry. And there are estimates of up to 8,100 new jobs in wave energy by 2040.