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BLOG: Marine Conference 2017

Nick Sharpe

Director of Communications

Posted on 14/09/2017 by Nick Sharpe

Just a day after industry learned a tidal project had been unsuccessful in gaining a Contract for Difference, the great and the good of the marine sector met in Inverness.

While the disappointment was understandable, there was still much positivity at SR’s Marine Conference, Exhibition and Dinner this week.

Business, Innovation and Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP, speaking on the conference’s second day, said:

“Innovative projects will always lose out in a UK Government scheme designed to favour big players and more mature technologies which are further along the cost curve than tidal.

“I am confident, however, having met with many of you that tidal and indeed wave are making great progress in that cost curve. We need to get to the point that we have the commitment to the technology that we can generate economies of scale by producing more devices and bringing manufacturing costs down, and that has a huge part to play in making the industry competitive.

“We will continue to press the UK Government to commit to a fairer system which offers early stage technologies the chance to replicate the cost reductions which we are seeing in offshore wind.”

OpenHydro’s Robert East summed up the post-CfD2 mood among marine developers and encouraged them to help promote their sector in a more positive way which would help convince politicians they are ‘worth backing’:

“Offshore wind has shown that the green premium has gone, because green is no longer something which costs more: green now comes for free. 

“As an industry, we need to be selling the other benefits of marine energy: the jobs, the investment and the export opportunity. 

"We have to sell the consistent, compelling credible story that politicians want to hear.” 

“The biggest challenge for marine is to convince politicians that we are worth backing and secure the cashflow to keep machines spinning while they prove themselves. 

“Without political support we are really pushing water uphill, so that's where we have to focus.” 

The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult’s Simon Cheeseman also highlighted the CfD round, saying:

"CfD2 significantly increases the pressure on marine energy on cost" and that unlike offshore wind "we don't have the luxury of going ever bigger: we often need to think more in terms of array development rather than ever-larger devices." 

Focussing on the ORE Catapult’s cost-reduction mission, he continued:  

"Marine needs to identify technology which can be pulled in from other sectors like automotive and defence, where cost reduction has already taken place. 

"Developers shouldn't try and progress all the technology themselves. Just focus on what your USP is for the design then use our portal and tools to identify the support for your project. 

"No one wants to buy a car that's only been taken round the test track once. You need to put the hours in and organisations like the Catapult are there to help you as developers do that.” 

ORE Catapult’s Vicky Coy joined other speakers in the same session, including Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s new Director of Energy and Low-Carbon Audrey MacIver, in celebrating Nova Innovation’s success in attracting EU funding through the EnFAIT project.

It will see the company’s tidal scheme in Shetland’s Bluemull Sound expand from three turbines to six, with those machines moved around on the seabed to test the optimum make-up for tidal arrays. 

Nova’s success, Vicky said, was an example of marine energy directly bringing £10 million of grant funding into Scotland’s economy – a feat she described as “flippin’ fantastic!”.

Alongside CfD results and the continuing challenges around funding, learning and collaboration were under the microscope at the Inverness conference. 

A host of organisations unveiled, or reminded delegates about, websites which give access to the wealth of information they produce, including:

Collaboration often breeds innovation; another key theme to come out of the conference's seven sessions.  

Jonny Lewis, representing ORJIP Ocean Energy, told delegates “it's all too easy to work in silos” and explained how ORJIP continues to be a knowledge hub for ideas on R&D projects, bringing the industry together.

Sue Barr, External Affairs Manager at OpenHydro, also discussed this theme, commenting on the vast learning the company has had through working overseas, exposing the business to new political environments, regulatory regimes, and supply chains.

The Catapult’s Vicky Coy makes no secret of her passion for working together and sharing successes – and even failures. 

It’s those, she said, which provide the most valuable lessons, adding: 

“We shouldn't be afraid of failure, it's just part of the learning process. Don't be scared of sharing things that haven't gone well.”

Wave Energy Scotland’s contribution to the conference contained an update on forthcoming contracts which it will award.

They include ‘horizon scanning’ to understand opportunities in very large scale wave energy converters and alternative generation techniques.

Senior Innovation Engineer Jonathan Hodges said:

“Increasing turbine size has clearly reaped cost reduction rewards in offshore wind and WES wishes to understand which of these benefits transfer to wave, and whether others arise from the specific characteristics of waves.”

Sustainable Marine Energy's Managing Director Jason Hayman, in a question late on day one of the conference, told how he values the collaborative spirit found in Orkney’s harbours and businesses: 

"It's a very mature way of working and we all learn from it. 

“In Formula One teams share expertise and tools in the pits and get faster because of it, and that’s the kind of collaboration we need more of if we want marine energy to progress.” 

That’s a sentiment that was echoed by EMEC’s Neil Kermode, who perfectly summed up the benefits of learning about marine devices by actually working with them in the water: 

“We always say that everyone is smarter when they get off the boat than they were when they got on it.” 

Crown Estate Scotland’s Sian Wilson also looked to the positives for the industry’s future – even ending her presentation with a holiday selfie taken in front of Wello Oy’s 1,600 tonne Penguin wave device at EMEC’s Billia Croo test site. 

She said:  

“The presentations I’ve heard this afternoon have all been inspiring. There’s so much that has been achieved and so much to be optimistic about. 

"We sometimes get stuck on the bad news but maybe it's just part of the process.”  

Innovation is leading to demonstrable results for the sector, with a series of achievements dominating the conference:

Achievements such as these go to show that the sector can deliver in even the most challenging of circumstances.

With a route to market established, we’d need a considerably longer conference.

Pic: Paul Campbell / Highlands and Islands Enterprise