Greg Barker MP is Minister of State for Energy & Climate Change. Follow Greg on Twitter.
Photograph of Greg Barker over looking the Pentland Firth, launching the second UK Marine Energy Park
This week, in the fast flowing waters between the tip of Caithness and the Orkney Islands, the Conservatives delivered another manifesto pledge. The second of our hugely ambitious marine energy parks was launched, coming hard on the heals of the first, the South West Marine Energy Park, which is already galvanising industrial progress from Bristol to Lands End.
But why does this government attach so much importance to harnessing the power of the waves and tides around our coastline? Well, for starters, it may be a nascent industry but the UK is actually the undisputed world leader in this exciting renewable field. Furthermore, if we are going to ensure that we have plentiful supplies of clean, secure and affordable energy well into the next century, we need a rich diversity of supply.
The idea of harnessing the power of the sea is not a new one but despite some well-intentioned policy, progress stalled to a snails pace in the years under Labour. Their massive over reliance on onshore wind to meet UK renewable energy targets put all other technologies in the shade. As a result, marine power still has some way to go before it can be rolled out cost effectively at commercial scale.
However, unless we make a start now and raise our game, commercial deployment will always be ten years away. I am determined to take the opportunity of being part of a reforming administration to act for the long term.
Our investment and support for Marine Energy today may only really start to reap big dividends in the 2020’s but when they come they could be huge.
Energy from the waves or tides has the potential to generate up to 27GW of power in the UK alone by 2050, equivalent to the power generated from eight large coal fired power stations. Unlike the wind, few things are more predictable than the tides!
Marine energy isn’t the total answer to our energy needs but it can play a much bigger role, so we are increasing financial support for the emerging Marine Sector too. However, subsidy can only be a pump primer nor is it the only way to drive the industry forward. The power of ‘clustering’ pioneered with such success in silicon valley, was spelt out to me in the Cabinet Room at a meeting convened by George Osborne to hear at first hand from Eric Schmidt, the former Chief Executive of google and one of the most successful entrepreneurs on the planet, what more we could do in the UK to drive innovation and encourage disruptive, new technology businesses.
Interestingly it wasn’t tax breaks or subsidy, lower corporation tax nor less bureaucracy that he identified as the number one change agent but creating sector clusters!
Clusters to bring together like-minded innovators and entrepreneurs. A geographic focus for investment in infrastructure and the creation of hotspots that allow financiers, researchers, academics and business people to rub shoulders and share ideas and inspiration. So we want to do for marine energy what Margaret Thatcher did for London Docklands and David Cameron is now doing for Tech City.
Ultimately it is the genius of our inventors and entrepreneurs and the expertise of our world-class manufacturers with their matchless skill for process engineering that will drive these new technologies forward. However, if we want to make sure that these new devices aren’t just deployed here but form the basis of a new world beating industry, with its manufacturing heart here in Britain there is a clear role for government and that is why we have an unashamed activist enterprise policy to get the maximum economic advantage from this sector. On Friday, the Olympic Opening ceremony celebrated the genius of Brunel and our industrial heritage, around our coastline we have the potential to unlock another revolution, cleaner, greener and one which we can export to the world.