Momentum is building towards a new world of sustainable energy, one where there will be heavy emphasis on renewables. But while some technologies such as wind turbines and photovoltaics are increasingly commonplace, marine renewables remain in relative infancy.
When I first became involved in marine renewable energy research – that was in 1980 when I started my PhD at the University of Edinburgh – wave power was considered to be a somewhat eccentric subject and many fellow graduates could not understand why I was attracted to such an unlikely topic.
At that time, tidal current energy wasn’t even being considered as a subject worthy of research at all.
By contrast, nuclear energy appeared to offer near endless prospects for limitless energy, the North Sea oil&gas industry was getting into its stride and the UK had apparently survived interruptions in petroleum supply from Opec without too much pain.
A few apocalyptic voices were issuing dire warnings about the ultimate exhaustion of fossil fuel sometime in the early 21st century, but serious analysts pointed out that, with further exploration, petroleum stocks could be expected to last for many decades.
In any case, our coal deposits were immense and confidently expected to last centuries at the then current rates of consumption.
Global climate change and the “greenhouse effect” were barely, if ever, mentioned. It was more fashionable to talk about an imminent ice age.
Crank the clock forward to the present day and things appear very different.
The price of petroleum has reached unprecedented levels, passing $120 per barrel just a few weeks ago.
Recent interruptions in petrol and diesel supplies have reminded us that energy supplies might not be as robust as we would like.
Climate change is an intensely debated issue and the finite nature of fossil and nuclear resources has become increasingly obviously, as has, unfortunately, the politically unreliable nature of many of our energy suppliers.
In the meantime, the wind industry has come on in leaps and bounds. Marine energy is also now being taken more seriously.
The UK Government has introduced a £40million investment programme known as the Marine Renewables Deployment Fund to aid in the early-stage development of commercial technology.
The Scottish Government has introduced the Wave and Tidal Energy Support Scheme to fund development and deployment at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney and has recently announced the Saltire Prize for marine energy innovation.
EMEC itself was funded by a raft of Government-funded bodies, notable Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Carbon Trust and the Department of Trade and Industry – now the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (DBERR).
UK Government funding has also been implemental in creating the New and Renewable Energy Centre in Northumberland and in the ongoing development of the Wave Hub off the north Cornish coast.