Rob Saunders, Head of Energy at the Technology Strategy Board

Tidal Today speaks to Rob Saunders of the TSB on how it is working to bring the best new tidal energy technologies to market faster by bridging the gap between concept and commercialisation.

By Susan Kraemer on Sep 25, 2013

Q: What are some practical ways that the Technology Strategy Board helps develop the UK's tidal potential?

A: The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) has supported and continues to support many of the leading tidal stream device developers to design and demonstrate their technologies through our innovation support programmes.

For example, our funding has helped Marine Current Turbines, Tidal Generation Ltd (now Alstom) and Atlantis resources to develop and prove their turbine designs in the last few years. More recently, the TSB has focussed on supporting a number of projects to address the technical array scale challenges through its Marine Energy: Supporting Array Technologies (MESAT) programme that was co-funded with Scottish Enterprise.

These projects include novel subsea electrical hubs, installation methods and tidal device platforms. As well as providing grant funding, TSB also promotes collaboration and knowledge exchange by encouraging collaborative projects, and running a Knowledge Exchange Network in energy. This helps promote opportunities for companies in the sector and link up companies.

Finally, the TSB has recently set up the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult Centre in Glasgow – a centre of excellence designed to help bring the best new technologies to market faster, and bridging the gap between concept and commercialisation by enabling the industry to collaborate better on the key new technologies needed to grow the industry. We work closely with other funders such as DECC and the ETI to ensure joined up support for companies in the sector.

Q: What are the next steps for the tidal industry?

A: The key challenges for the industry are to demonstrate at scale and show a realistic path to competitive cost of energy. Technically, this means scaling up to commercial scale devices, but in the main it is demonstration of the tidal farm as a system. This includes design of the farm layout, electrical interconnection, installation and operation procedures for multi-device arrays.

Commercially, the industry is challenged to reduce costs such that it can become competitive with other forms of low carbon generation in order to retain investor confidence and support. It is anticipated that this means that the cost of tidal energy should be competitive with that of offshore wind by the middle of the next decade.

Q: How will the Electricity Market Reforms impact the tidal industry?

A: The EMR will provide greater certainty in support for emerging technologies like tidal to 2020 at least, so long as the strike price, which has still to be confirmed, is at a level somewhere close to the current support under the Renewable Obligation.

The changeover from one to the other has created uncertainty, but the framework is now clear. The lack of carbon target for UK to 2030 creates some further uncertainty for projects post 2020, but generally the policy environment for tidal in the UK is world-leading, and we see the effect of that in a number of overseas developers coming to take advantage of this and base their activities here.