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Cross Channel project helps grow Marine Renewable Energy

A cross Channel project looking at offshore energy opportunities has found that areas in the Arc Manche region should look to develop, manufacture and export marine offshore renewables technology for the long term benefit of the region.

The University of Chichester is part of an international team of experts involved in the European Channel MOR (Marine Offshore Renewables) project. The project aimed to identify and promote opportunities for SMEs in the Channel Arc Manche region to expand into the Marine Renewable Energy (MRE) sector and create sustainable growth within the sector.

A report written by the University considers possible futures for MRE in the Channel Arc Manche regions and what regions can do to participate. Experts in the MRE sector describe key regional strengths as coastal conditions, local knowledge and expertise, and policy support.  The report found that not only will MRE reduce carbon emissions; business and job opportunities around local port developments will have a positive economic benefit for regions.

Although these do bring significant benefits to regions, the project found that an equally and often higher share of benefits are realised by technology exporters, and so knowledge and expertise are deemed to be a greater regional strength. The University’s report argues that investing in R&D and being able to capture opportunities at any stage of the electricity supply chain (i.e. from generation to consumption) is a more robust and flexible strategic perspective for regions than focussing on one-off Marine Offshore Renewable installations.  Regions with a strong MRE intellectual capital will be able to deploy this strength to take advantage of opportunities even in the absence of the best coastal conditions and policy support.

MRE is seen as a high-risk opportunity so regions need to facilitate access by reducing perceived risks. There are a number of possible long-term futures in MRE with the worst case scenario being that MRE will eventually be abandoned. However, the Channel MOR project found that regions cannot afford to ignore the MRE opportunity even when considering the risk, although unlikely, of the failure of the sector to grow. The more likely scenarios are either where MRE will remain a source of energy as part of a wider portfolio of energy sources; or strong MRE growth in coastal regions such as the Channel Arc Manche means they become the economic super-regions of the future due to their cheap and sustainable power generation.

To increase the likelihood of the third scenario, regions need to learn to differentiate tactical 'local co-ordination' opportunities (e.g. welcoming a wind farm on one's shore) from long term, more strategic investment in MRE technologies (e.g. supporting the growth of innovative SMEs).  Although all coastal regions will benefit from the first type of opportunity, it is likely that only a few will be able to fully take advantage of the second type. In addition, the current focus on local installations creates competition between regions, which detracts from a national MRE strategy. This is not sustainable and will result in missed opportunities. The report makes recommendations to European, national and regional policy makers on how to facilitate collaboration and ensure regions maximise opportunities.

Academics from the University of Chichester led projects to establish a comprehensive picture of the current MRE sector and markets in the Channel region and to analyse and map the opportunities for developing MRE activities in the area. The University also created a framework for developing the knowledge and understanding of the opportunities available in the off-shore renewable energy sector. Working in collaboration with Cornwall Marine Network, Le Havre University, Portsmouth University and the Brittany region, the research team completed what is probably the most comprehensive global database of off-shore renewable energy sites in the world, as well as a supply chain database for businesses that maps their capabilities to specific activities within the renewable energy supply chain. This work is part of a web based portal which gives businesses access to comprehensive data sets on the Channel area’s marine renewables sector (courses, installations and businesses involved in the MRE value chain) as well as a range of decision support tools for entering the sector. The portal also includes a series of reports highlighting the opportunities for businesses in the Channel area, a short film on the sector and a comprehensive map of training and skills applicable to the sector along the Channel. The portal can be found at: www.channelmorenergy.eu.

These finding were presented by the University at the final conference of the European Channel MOR project which brought together all the project’s partners in Norwich along with the partners and guests of the Channel project GENIE. The event debated the direction to take in the coming years in order to grow and organise the MRE sector in the Channel Area. The University of Chichester is now continuing to explore promising areas of investment in offshore renewable technologies and is developing projects in these areas.

It is clear that the MRE sector will play a significant part in the economy of the Channel region over the coming years and despite perceived current high risk, no region can afford to ignore MRE opportunities.