Wave energy has the potential to provide at least 15% of the UK’s annual electricity and help the country meet its Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050.
But for that potential to become a reality, it will require an extensive programme of collaboration, investment and innovation involving governments, science, industry, and landowners.
Those are the key findings of a new study examining the current state of the UK’s wave energy sector and how its fortunes have fluctuated over the past five decades.
Published in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, and led by academics from the University of Plymouth, it positions the UK at the forefront of offshore renewable energy innovation and development worldwide.
In 2017, almost 30% of the UK’s energy was generated through renewable technologies such as wind and solar power, dramatically reducing the country’s reliance on fossil fuels and helping it pursue commitments made in the Kyoto Agreement.
That expertise has also been translated into significant progress in offshore renewable energy (ORE), but within that – compared to wind and even tidal technology – the wave energy sector is currently lagging behind.
This, the study’s authors say, is to some degree due to a small number of high-profile complications and commercial challenges which have harmed general confidence in the sector and led to a focus on niche applications rather than larger-scale projects.
However, the wave conditions right around the UK coastline – particularly in the Shetlands, Pentland Firth and Orkney, Hebrides, Pembrokeshire, South West England, and North Sea – remain more than capable of supporting wave energy developments.
Despite this, at the time of writing, the authors highlighted that there are currently just nine Crown Estate leased sites where wave energy devices are or had been operational in the UK. One more was in construction and one in development, however, a further ten sites previously identified as potential hotspots for the technology are either on hold or have been cancelled.
Professor Deborah Greaves OBE, Head of the School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics at the University of Plymouth, is the study’s senior author. She said: