20 September 2018
Speech in the Scottish Parliament
I, too, congratulate Liam McArthur on securing another debate on marine energy.
His persistence is to his credit—and much the same could be said for many of those involved in the sector itself.
Such persistence and optimism are well founded.
They are based on the far-sighted decision back in 2003 to establish the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, with backing not just from Europe but from ministers both here and at Westminster, from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and from Orkney Islands Council, as we have heard.
EMEC did not so much address a market failure as represent a market intervention.
It sought to stimulate a potential new energy industry in which Orkney, Scotland and the UK could aim to achieve first-mover advantage.
Up to a point, that has proved to be the case.
As Scottish Renewables points out in its briefing this week, more wave and tidal devices have been developed in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland than in the rest of the world put together.
EMEC should take a lot of credit for that enterprising approach.
However, it is only right to acknowledge that the past 15 years have seen ups and downs for marine energy.
There have been false dawns and disappointments as well as exciting innovations and technological breakthroughs.
Perhaps premature talk of a marine energy boom a decade ago did the sector no real favours, but the hard work has gone on nonetheless.
Alexander Burnett mentioned Vattenfall.
Just as marine energy innovation was getting under way in Orkney, a parallel development was taking place in the north-east.
The Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group got up and running in 2002 and soon identified having an offshore wind farm in Aberdeen Bay as one of its central ambitions.
That seemed just as challenging at the time as achieving commercial viability for wave or tidal energy in Scotland’s islands.
After 15 years of hard work and ups and downs, it was great to see many veterans of AREG sail out of Aberdeen aboard a NorthLink ferry for the official opening of the Aberdeen Bay wind farm by Magnus Hall—the chief executive of Vattenfall—and the First Minister.
That event proved that a vision for offshore renewable energy can be delivered if the commitment is there and the right commercial developer comes forward to invest in the right project at the right time.
Aberdeen Bay now boasts the world’s biggest wind turbines.
Like EMEC, the project has benefited from support, both financial and otherwise, from local and national Government and from Europe.
Where Orkney boasts the European Marine Energy Centre, Aberdeen is now home to the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre; in addition, innovative new technologies are being pioneered off the coasts of both Buchan and Kincardineshire.
The very success of offshore wind is of course part of the challenge for wave and tidal energy.
Wind developers have halved the costs of building and installing turbines in recent years.
That means that, in spite of the good work that has already been done to drive down the costs of wave and tidal energy, they have become relatively less competitive in the short term.
However, Scottish Renewables also points out that an ancillary benefit of offshore wind deployment is reduced capital cost for the wave and tidal energy sector, and it is precisely access to capital that is needed now for tidal energy in particular to move on to the next phase.
Liam McArthur talked about support from the UK Government in the context of the need to recognise that the technologies are not yet commercially mature.
That is absolutely right, but tidal turbines are in the water, producing power.
Wave energy has lost some momentum in the past couple of years, but with the right progress on technology it can move forward, too.
Like offshore wind in Aberdeen Bay, marine energy in Orkney and across Scotland has huge potential.
With continuing persistence and backing from investors and Government at every level, it can deliver another step change for renewable energy.
If it does so, we will be able to celebrate even more progress the next time we have such a debate.