Businesses urged to make East Anglia a wave and tidal energy world leader
Engineering and environmental businesses have been challenged to make East Anglia a 'world leader' by seizing on the government's desire to back tidal and wind energy.
Ministers are encouraging firms to pitch their ideas of how to generate electricity from the power of waves and tides, with up to two projects sharing �20m.
But despite doubts about the North Sea off the Norfolk coast housing large-scale commercial projects in the near future, the region's developing renewable energy industry is being backed to research and produce the technology required.
Brandon Lewis, Great Yarmouth MP, said tidal and wave power was a 'huge opportunity' for the region, adding that the east of England could also meet the government's demand to expand the UK's energy sources.
He said: 'It's about energy security and the government is not just relying on one thing but looking at the expansion of nuclear, more from oil and gas, off-shore wind farms.
'For the eastern region it's a huge opportunity. We can be world leaders and our businesses and people locally can build on that with jobs in that industry, even just researching it. Everybody thinks East Anglia is a sleepy, agricultural region. But if we look at the high-technology businesses in Norwich, software in Ipswich, medicine in Cambridge and energy in Great Yarmouth we are a forward-thinking, high-technology area and we need to remind the rest of the world what we are doing.'
The government's �20m project is aiming to support pre-commercial projects which demonstrate how wave and/or tidal devices operate in 'array formation' - rows or columns – over a period of time.
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It is hoped marine power could provide up to 20pc of the UK's current electricity demand, create thousands of jobs and help cut carbon emissions.
But the industry is still in its infancy.
The Crown Estate has identified areas off the UK coast for the technology to be used, including numerous sites near Scotland.
Marc Paish, chief technology officer at Sheffield-based Pulse Tidal, has been helping to develop tidal power technology since 1998, including raising money and securing grants for a demonstration machine in the Humber Estuary.
Mr Paish said it was estimated to cost between �5m and �7m to produce one megawatt (MW) of power with tidal or wave devices, with the government looking to back projects producing between 5MW and 10MW.
He said these developments were comparable to the state of the wind power industry 15 years ago, although they were expected to develop faster.
Mr Paish added companies were currently looking at putting devices in locations which would generate the most energy.
He said: 'I think there's an interesting area of current around the Norfolk coast where in the longer term you can imagine an array being feasible but I think it will take quite a while before developers take an interest.'
Mr Paish said once the technology developed and became cheaper to install, then it was likely more companies would take an interest.
He said: 'There's some resource there off the Norfolk coast but's it's not going to be developed in a hurry.'
Devices have been tested in the area, including Lowestoft-based 4Nrg's Tidal Harvester 2. It is hoped this could one day be used in the North Sea.
Dr Andrew Boswell, Green Party spokesman for environment, transport and development at Norfolk County Council, said he hoped the newer government cash would have more success than the previous Labour administration's �50m fund.
This project was criticised for being difficult to access.
Dr Boswell said: 'We clearly need to move towards all sorts of renewable energy.'
David Krohn, wave & tidal development manager at industry lobbyists Renewable UK, said he welcomed the cash to 'kick-start' the industry.
But he said: 'It's important to recognise that this is only the beginning of the road to building marine energy into a fully commercial industry.
'Our research shows that �120 million of capital support is required to overcome barriers to commercial development and unlock our share of this global industry.'
Bidding for government money closes on June 1 with the winners to be announced later in the year.
Greg Barker, energy and climate change minister, said the cash will help move marine power to the next stage of development and closer to achieving the ambition of powering homes and businesses with electricity generated from waves and tides.