The interregional Partnership on Smart Specialisation in Marine Renewable Energy
Europe has a strong business and technological fabric operating in the energy and marine industry, alongside with excellent marine resources in terms of recoverable energy. Despite relevant technological advances, the deployment of the Marine Renewable Energy (MRE) sector is not increasing fast enough to meet the EU ambitious goals. Aware of this situation, 15 EU regions leaded by Scotland and the Basque Country joined forces to set-up the Marine Renewable Energy (MRE) partnership. The MRE partnership is based on the previous work of one of the Vanguard Initiative (VI) pilot actions, “Advanced Manufacturing for Energy Related Applications in Harsh Environments” (ADMA Energy) and benefits from synergies between both initiatives.
The main strategic objective of MRE partnership is to support European companies to improve their competitiveness as suppliers of products, services and solutions with highly demanding requirements in terms of quality, integrity, efficiency and reliability for the marine renewable energy markets (offshore wind, wave and tidal energies), through cross-sectoral and cross-regional collaboration.
To that end, the MRE set up the following operational objectives:
- Facilitate to EU companies the best partnerships in order to address and solve specific challenges at the technological level in the different markets and segments:
- For offshore wind energy, the challenges include increased water depths, more remote and distant site locations, corrosion of towers and foundations and larger size of components, with a resultant increase in logistical challenges for installation, O&M
- For ocean energy (wave and tidal), the current biggest challenge is the survivability of the marine devices.
- Help companies and R&D organisations to establish a better understanding about the critical factors to succeed and develop a long-term vision in close partnership with the relevant stakeholders.
- Reveal visibility of the European industrial potential and help companies to identify their technological needs.
- Help policy makers understand the needs of actors and thus be in a better position to design effective policy responses.
The partnership currently comprises the 16 regions that have identified MRE as one of their key Smart Specialisation priorities based on their present capacities and growth potential regarding the renewable resources available in the region and the technological competences. These regions are: Andalusia (ES); Asturias (ES); Basque Country (ES); Brittany (FR); Cornwall and Isles of Scilly (UK);Dalarna (SE); Emilia-Romagna (IT); Flanders (BE); Lombardy (IT); Navarra (ES); Norte (PT); Ostrobothnia (FI); Scotland (UK); Skåne (SE); Sogn and Fjordane (NO); Southern Denmark (DK).
The MRE sectors (offshore wind and ocean energies, that include wave and tidal) are experiencing development but unevenly, with differing degrees of technical and economic maturity between the MRE sources. At present, only fixed offshore wind installations can be considered as a true industry sector. The technology of deep offshore wind farms (at water depths greater than 50 m) is still at a pre-commercialization stage and floating substructures are currently at pilot and pre-commercialization stage. The leading developers of tidal and wave devices are on the other hand installing and testing large-scale prototypes in real sea conditions, as well as their first farm of devices.
The complexity involved in the MRE sector leads to higher costs of energy generation than other methods of generating green electricity.
The higher cost is on the one hand, the result of emerging industry moving from full-scale prototype stage to first arrays. Funding issues, lack of investors and administrative problems can cause the sector to lag. On the other side, the marine environment adds great difficulties, leading to increased investment in deploying cables offshore, building foundations at sea, transportation of materials to more remote areas and installing equipment and turbines at sea.
In 2016 a Technology Roadmap was defined by the Vanguard ADMA Energy Pilot (with a high level of participation of industry through a survey and workshops), to establish a better understanding about the critical factors to success, to develop a long-term vision in close partnership with the relevant stakeholders and to help policy makers understand needs of actors and thus be in a better position to design effective policy responses. The Technology Roadmap stated that the overarching industrial challenge focuses on offering added-value solutions for offshore environments while driving down investment and operating costs in order to maintain competitiveness of the industry.
The key aspects for overcoming the overarching MRE industrial challenge, which focuses on driving down investment and operating costs in order to maintain competitiveness, are shown below:
State of play: Regional agencies and authorities, Cluster organizations, SMEs intermediaries and technology centres from the regions involved have worked together for 4 years with the main objective of improving the competitiveness and international positioning of European SMEs manufacturers of equipment and components.
Partner regions have identified some operational challenges pointed out by their MRE value chain stakeholders, which can be summarised as follows:
- Few established and systematic relationships exist between companies and organizations.
- Access to a broad and competitive offer of testing and demonstration infrastructures available in Europe is complex, due to limited information, lack of alignment between the industrial needs and the offered services and high prices.
- Access to key persons in big customers (facility owners, EPC developers, OEMs) in order to fully understand their core needs and challenges is difficult and limited in time and subjects.
- The process of searching well-matched partners outside their home regions and discussing collaboration agreements is challenging for most companies, and few SMEs are able to invest time and money in this process without assistance.
- Information deficiency acts as a barrier to foster any kind of partnering opportunities.
The industry stakeholders agreed on the fact that achieving added-value cost-competitive solutions requires a continuous technological development and an aggregate thinking of all value chain processes and actors involved. The major technological challenges that companies face in the MRE sectors:
- Corrosion of materials and components in marine environments
- Sensing and remote monitoring in marine renewable energy facilities
- Manufacturing and handling of large-scale components
- Cost reduction of offshore operation and maintenance activities.
The MRE partnership has taken these four technological challenges as the priority fields where common interest initiatives, projects and investments could be developed in collaboration by companies and stakeholders from the different regions. One of the most relevant examples of the pilot projects boosted through the MRE partnership has been NeSSIE, a project funded by DG-MARE that taps into the existing knowledge of anti-corrosion technology/novel materials solutions in the maritime sector supply chain, to develop demonstration projects for offshore renewables in the North Sea . Other example of the joint work of the MRE partnership is the new Pilot Action under the title of “Sensing & Remote Monitoring in Marine Renewable Energy facilities” (S&RM in MRE). This action, financed by DG REGIO, responds to the objective of accelerating digitalization of offshore windfarms and facilitate the acquisition and analysis of the data produced under real operating conditions, in order to generate value for companies at all levels of the value chain.