Renewable industry must not make promises it cannot keep

By John Parnell

Overstating the potential of emerging clean technologies can damage the fledgling industry, a panel of experts has warned.

Making unrealistic promises about the future output of new technologies such as wave power, can make investors sceptical about getting their money back.

“It’s not good for the industry to over-promise. It’s better to be realistic,” said Robert Stevenson, VP of Rolls-Royce Power Ventures, owners of Tidal Generation, which developed a tide driven electricity generator.

“I gave evidence at a Select Committee and they produced a very old report that promised that a huge amount of energy would be installed today. They wanted to know where all this power was,” said Stevenson at the RenewableUK Wave and Tidal Conference in Edinburgh.

When issues like this are raised, it can also affect investment in the marine energy sector.

At present, there are a number of small companies developing their own technologies to harness the power of waves and tidal streams.

So far, industrial giants such as Siemens and Rolls-Royce and utility firms like SSE and Scottish Power have put money into these emerging technologies. But there is a long way to go till marine energy is considered as established as wind farms and solar panels.

“At the moment the risks are horrendous, it’s a speculative investment and the returns for investors are far away,” said Jeremy Biggs, chief executive, Narec Capital.

“But we are now seeing a glimmer of hope. There’s some good technologies coming through and we are starting to sort the wheat from the chaff.”

The UK currently has the largest marine energy industry and is pressing to establish itself as the world leader. RenewableUK estimates that marine energy could be worth £3.7bn to the UK economy by 2020.

There are calls from within the industry for additional investment from the UK and Scottish governments to add to the £38m already spent, to boost the sector.

EU countries have a commitment to generate 20% of their power from renewable energy by 2020.

Contact the author at [email protected] or @rtcc_john.

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