Marine in United Kingdom

Tidal energy

The large tidal range along the west coasts of England and Wales provides some of the most favourable conditions in the world for the utilisation of tidal power. If all reasonably exploitable estuaries were utilised, annual generation of electricity from tidal power plants would be some 50 TWh, equivalent to about 15% of current UK electricity consumption.

The four principal islands of the Channel Islands group: Alderney, Jersey, Guernsey and Sark have all been shown to possess a tidal resource that could be harnessed at some time in the future. Study has shown that Alderney has tidal ranges estimated to have a power potential of between 750 MW and 3 GW. The other three islands are all at the stage of studying the possibilities of utilising their tidal potential.

Another area of the UK that could, if tidal technology is employed, provide an estimated 5% of the UK’s electricity, is the northwest region of England. The Solway Firth, Morecambe Bay, and the Mersey and Dee estuaries are all potential sites for tidal schemes. Peel Energy, working with the Northwest Regional Development Agency, is currently undertaking a feasibility study on the estuary of the River Mersey. It has also been reported that the councils of West Cumbria (England) and Dumfries and Galloway (Scotland) are studying the potential of the Solway Firth.

The possibilities for utilising the tidal resource of both the north coast of Wales and the Teign estuary in Devon, England are presently being studied.

The European Marine Energy Centre’s (EMEC) Tidal Test Facility is located off the southwestern coast of the island of Eday, Orkney. As the world’s only purpose-built open-sea area where demonstration tidal devices can be tested in situ prior to deployment of full-scale turbines, it now advises other countries intent on learning how to develop their own marine energy resource.

2008 saw the first UK grid-connected 250 kW tidal turbines. In May, the Irish company OpenHydro began producing electricity for national consumption at EMEC. Later in the year, also at EMEC, OpenHydro installed the world’s first specialist barge for deployment of full-scale seabed-mounted tidal turbines.

In October 2009 Atlantis Resources Corporation announced that it was planning to test its 1 MW AK-1000 tidal current turbine at EMEC in summer 2010.

In December 2009, it was announced that EMEC was undertaking a search for further sites that could be used for sea trials.

The UK’s Energy Act 2008 became law in November 2008 and will implement the legislative aspects of the 2007 Energy White Paper: Meeting the Energy Challenge. In part, the Act will strengthen the Renewables Obligation to drive greater and more rapid deployment of renewable energy in the UK. In December 2008 a draft Renewables Obligation Order 2009 was published.

Both The UK Renewable Energy Strategy and the White Paper: The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan were published in mid-2009. They are intended to provide the direction for the country to meet its share of the EU’s 20% renewables target by 2020, thereby reducing national carbon emissions.

The Government also launched a Marine Action Plan in September 2009 which provides a “Vision” to 2030 (with reference to 2020). The Plan, together with increased investment, will provide furtherance of the marine energy technologies, building on both the UK’s excellent marine resource and the offshore expertise gained through the oil and gas sectors.

For the successful deployment of an enhanced marine sector, the wide-ranging Plan will address all aspects of the financing, environmental, industrial, economic, planning issues etc. prior to the publication of the draft Action Plan, expected in Spring 2010. There will thereafter be a period of public consultation.

In October 2007 the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), on behalf of the Government, published the results of a year-long study looking at the full range of tidal power technologies available. The Commission was charged with examining the sustainable use of the UK’s tidal resource, in particular how the power of the Severn Estuary, with its British and European legal conservation protection, could be used.

It will be necessary for any ensuing development of the Severn Estuary to first clear the hurdles of the many environmental concerns.

In late January 2009 the Government announced that it was halfway through a feasibility study looking at all aspects of a tidal plant in the Severn Estuary. After a three-month period of public consultation and studying 10 possible schemes for a tidal plant, a short list of five proposals was drawn up using a range of options: three using a barrage scheme and two, a lagoon:

- Beachley Barrage

- Bridgewater Bay lagoon

- Cardiff-Weston Barrage

- Fleming lagoon at Welsh Grounds

- Shoots Barrage

The impact of any one or a combination of these schemes, the possibility of installing a tidal fence and the consequence of not developing the Severn Estuary at all are to be studied prior to a decision, expected to be made in 2010.

Work on surveying the waters surrounding the island of Alderney and the preparation of environmental studies have taken place over a period of three years and involved OpenHydro and Alderney Renewable Energy Ltd. (ARE). This cooperation resulted in 2008 in OpenHydro acquiring a 20% shareholding in ARE. Moreover, ARE received an exclusive 65-year licence from the States of Alderney for electricity generation from tidal (and wave) energy in the island’s territorial waters.

Following Marine Current Turbines’ (MCT) development of its SeaFlow turbine and the experience gained from its deployment offshore from Lynmouth, Devon, the next-generation SeaGen turbine achieved a world first during 2008. In May a 1.2 MW, 16 m diameter, twin rotor system was installed in Strangford Narrows, Northern Ireland. After a period of testing, the world’s first commercial-scale tidal stream project achieved power generation at maximum capacity in December 2008.

It was announced in July 2009 that SeaGen had been accredited by OFGEM (Office of the Gas and Electricity Markets) as a UK power station, making it the first tidal project to receive Renewable Energy Certificates (ROCs) and thereby permitting it to sell the generated power.

By September 2009 SeaGen was operating without on-the-spot close supervision of its environmental impact and output was greater than originally anticipated. It is currently operating remotely without environmental supervision and will, in due course, be able to operate on a 24-hour basis. The Irish company ESB Independent Energy has signed a five-year power purchase agreement to buy the electricity generated, sufficient for approximately 1 000 homes.

Early in 2008, MCT joined in partnership with npower renewables to develop a tidal stream project under the management of a newly-created company, SeaGen Wales. The plan is for a 10.5 MW farm to be located in The Skerries, off the northwest coast of Anglesey. The farm will consist of seven 1.5 MW SeaGen turbines. If planning permission is granted and financing is in place, then commissioning could take place in 2011/2012. It is expected that electricity generated would feed into the national grid.

In November 2008 The Crown Estate, owner of the UK’s seabed, began the process of inviting proposals to develop marine energy projects in the Pentland Firth and Orkney Islands. The area off the northeast coast of Scotland is particularly well-endowed with a marine resource and Round 1 of the leasing programme is designed for the installation of 1.2 GW of tidal (and wave) power by 2020. The tender period for pre-qualified organisations lasted until May 2009. Negotiations with twenty prospective developers then ensued. In March 2010 the names of the successful bidders were announced. Leases for the installation of 600 MW have been signed as follows:

SSE Renewables Developments, 200 MW, Westray South (Orkney);

SSE Renewables Holdings and OpenHydro, 200 MW, Cantick Head (Orkney);

Marine Current Turbines, 100 MW, Brough Ness (Orkney);

ScottishPower Renewables, 100 MW, Ness of Duncansby (Pentland Firth).

One further site, Inner Sound, also in the Pentland Firth, was re-tendered, with expressions of interest closing at end-May 2010.

The ScottishPower Renewables scheme plans to use up to 95 Hammerfest Strøm 1 MW turbines.

Wave energy

The UK has become a positive regime in which to develop renewable ocean energy technologies, because of the various types of support offered.

This includes:

the Renewables Obligation (RO), the UK Government’s main support mechanism for the expansion of emerging technologies in renewable electricity generation in the UK, operates through the use of renewable obligation certificates (ROCs). The incentive offered by ROCs will vary with the market but is of the order of GBP 50/MWh. In 2008, the UK Government introduced banding by technology of the ROC in order to provide better support for emerging technologies, with wave receiving 2 ROCs/MWh of eligible generation. Scotland, like Portugal and Ireland, recognised the need for enhanced support for emerging technologies like wave and introduced 5 ROCs/MWh for wave energy;

the UK Government’s Marine Renewables Proving Fund of GBP 22 million for R&D to take marine devices successfully from initial prototype development through to early–stage commercial generation, where they are then eligible for funding from the Marine Renewables Deployment Fund (MRDF). The MRDF contains the Wave and Tidal Energy Demonstration Scheme, with a total of GBP 42 million to be committed over 3 years, with a maximum of GBP 9 million per project, a 25% capital grant (with a maximum of GBP 5 million) and GBP 100/MWh for 7 years once a scheme is commissioned;

UK Government support for R&D in marine technologies from fundamental research (the SuperGen Marine programme) through to pre-commercial deployment. This comprises a consortium of about 33 organisations including energy companies, utilities, research laboratories, commercial companies, government bodies, ocean energy developers and universities;

the Scottish Government runs the Saltire Prize scheme offering an international prize of GBP 10 million aimed at inspiring significant technological advances in the marine renewables sector. It also continues to invest in infrastructure at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney, an institution that provides much of the necessary infrastructure for wave (and tidal current) developers to test their demonstration devices, including subsea electrical cables to test stations. EMEC has produced a number of guideline documents for the marine energy sector as precursors to becoming standards (;

EMEC will be joined in the near future by the ‘Wave Hub’ infrastructure project off the Cornish coast (SW England) pioneered by the South West Regional Development Agency. This will provide a 20 MW capacity electrical connection from a subsea facility to the national grid, to test small farms of wave energy devices as the next step to commerciality;

there is also a facility for large wave tanks and dry-dock testing of large-scale devices at the New and Renewable Energy Centre (Narec, Blythe, Northumberland);

the Government has also introduced a Marine Bill, which addresses all users of the marine environment to ensure a sustainable approach to the use of the sea and aims to streamline the consenting process. In support of this, work is nearly complete on developing revised Environmental Impact Assessment guidance for offshore renewables.

Given this level of support, together with other marine energy initiatives such as the UK’s Energy Technologies Institute’s development of subsea cable connectors for ocean energy, there is a great deal of interest from wave energy companies in the UK and, perhaps more importantly, support from utilities and other commercial organisations, for instance:

Wavegen’s Siadar Wave Energy with RWE npower renewables will generate up to 4 MW from a number of OWCs in a breakwater on the Isle of Lewis; 

Pelamis Wave Power will deploy a 3 MW scheme off Orkney with ScottishPower Renewables; 

Pelamis Wave Power and Vattenfall will develop a 20 MW wave power project off the Shetland Islands in a joint venture, called Aegir Wave Power; 

EMEC will enable testing of a number of devices, including: Aquamarine Power’s Oyster, Ocean Power Technologies’ PowerBuoy, Pelamis (with E.ON); Ocean Navitas’ Aegir Dynamo; 

Wave Hub has selected a number of technologies for its wave farm: Ocean Power Technologies’ PowerBuoy, Pelamis Wave Power’s Pelamis and others. 

In November 2008 The Crown Estate, owner of the UK’s seabed, began the process of inviting proposals to develop marine energy projects in the Pentland Firth and Orkney Islands. The area off the northeast coast of Scotland is particularly wellendowed with a marine resource and Round 1 of the leasing programme is designed for the installation of 1.2 GW of wave (and tidal) power by 2020. The tender period for pre-qualified organisations lasted until May 2009. Negotiations with twenty prospective developers then ensued. In March 2010 the names of the successful bidders were announced. Leases for the installation of 600 MW have been signed as follows:

SSE Renewables Developments, 200 MW, Costa Head (Orkney);

Aquamarine Power and SSE Renewables Developments, 200 MW, Brough Head (Orkney);

SSE Renewables Holdings and OpenHydro, 50 MW, Marwick Head (Orkney);

E.ON, 50 MW, West Orkney South;

E.ON, 50 MW, West Orkney Middle South;

Pelamis Wave Power, 50 MW, Armadale (Pentland Firth).


The Marine section of this area of the website collates information on Wave energy, Tidal energy and Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion technologies. For further details please refer to the WER 2013 report marine chapter.