Marine energy to compete on cost with nuclear and onshore wind by 2025

13 Jul 2011 | News
With a little help, electricity generated by the most productive tidal and wave farms could match the price of nuclear and onshore wind energy, according to a new UK study

A new analysis by the UK’s Carbon Trust shows that with continued and targeted innovation the country’s best marine energy sites could generate electricity at costs comparable with nuclear and onshore wind as soon as 2025, and that in the future marine energy could provide a fifth of the UK’s electricity needs.

Through work carried out in its £3.5 million Marine Energy Accelerator programme, the Carbon Trust has established that the costs for the first wave and tidal energy farms will be around 30 – 40 pence per Kwh. While this is high relative to today’s more established low carbon technologies, it is broadly as expected, given the early stage of development.

The report says that with continued and targeted innovation, aggressive reductions in costs can be achieved in the next ten years. This will bring the price down to average of 15 pence per kilowatt hour by 2025 - equivalent to today’s cost of offshore wind energy.

In addition, the report also quantifies the amount of energy that can realistically be tapped and sets out the actions now needed to set the industry on a path to commercial success.

Wave energy could generate 50 Terra Watt hours (TWh) of electricity per year, equivalent to 13 per cent of the UK’s power needs, and tidal stream 20.6 TWh per year or 5 per cent of UK power needs.  This is the equivalent of more than 12 large coal-fired power stations.

The fast flowing tides of the deeper areas of the Pentland Firth between the Scottish mainland and the Orkneys alone could ultimately generate almost one third of all tidal stream energy (6 TWh/year) and at an equivalent cost to nuclear and onshore wind.

Rougher weather conditions

According to the Carbon Trust, the Marine Energy Accelerator programme has already driven innovation in key areas including device deployment and mooring.  Just one of these innovations, developed with the company Pelamis Wave Power, has projected savings of £15 million a year by 2020, through faster installation and connection of the device in rougher weather conditions.

  • The latest analysis from the Marine Energy Accelerator highlights the following key areas for action:
  • targeted innovation is needed to drive cost reduction and de-risk the industry.  Project developers should engage in non-competitive R&D efforts to tackle challenges and costs associated with array deployment, foundations and electrical connections.
  • The Government needs to provide a stable revenue support framework and legislative backing through Strategic Environmental Assessments to streamline the planning process for wave and tidal energy farms.
  • Utilities and project developers must continue to be more heavily involved in the industry, generating wider investor confidence.
  • Supply chain partners should look to invest now to create market-leading positions.
  • Plans for grid connections to areas of marine energy need to be expanded, specifically for the Pentland Firth.

Wave energy innovations

Working with device developers and other key players, the Marine Energy Accelerator promoted innovation in the following areas to speed cost reductions:

  • Optimising the design of tidal turbine blades, which might otherwise be significantly over-engineered
  • Developing nylon (instead of steel) ropes and gravity bag anchors for mooring devices
  • Developing novel ‘linear generators’ to replace hydraulics, meaning fewer moving parts and less maintenance
  • Developing new techniques to enable the generating equipment in floating wave devices to be disconnected from the main structure

The full report can be downloaded at


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