By Holly Skyrme
Marine Energy Wales hosted a highly anticipated webinar on Tuesday 25th April 2023, to discuss the recent announcement by Welsh Government of a £750,000 funding pot for tidal lagoon research. The event, which drew an impressive number of attendees, provided valuable insight into the proposed research priorities, grant application process, and next steps for the Tidal Lagoon Challenge.
The Welsh Government’s ambitious goal is to establish Wales as a global leader in emerging tidal technology. However, various obstacles have hampered the commercialisation of tidal range energy thus far. The new funding pot aims to tackle these issues head-on and strengthen the business case for tidal range to the UK Government.
The webinar was hosted by Marine Energy Wales’ Project Manager Jay Sheppard, and Commerical Director Sarah-Joy Lewis from Local Partnerships LLP, who is supporting the Government to deliver their commitment to the Tidal Lagoon Challenge.
Sarah-Joy Lewis outlined the three proposed research priorities and aims, before inviting comment and suggestions. She also covered the grant application process, due to be published in the next six months. Once again, she asked for feedback on various elements of the process to help inform their final decision. The session ended with an outline of the next steps. Awards are due to be announced in Spring 2024.
The Welsh Government is committed to advancing research in three key areas:
- Engineering and Technical
- Socioeconomic and Financial
Tidal lagoons present a wealth of untapped research opportunities within each of these areas, offering the potential to expand our knowledge and tackle important gaps in our understanding.
To ensure that the most pressing research questions are addressed, participants were invited to suggest and vote for their preferred topics. Notably, Engineering and Technical research emerged as the most popular area of focus, with 54% of participants casting their vote in its favour, closely followed by Environment at 44%. Whatever the chosen research priority, participating organisations must demonstrate research excellence, delivering original insights and tangible benefits for Wales.
Grant Application Process
Local Partnerships presented their proposed grant application process for the funding, which is designed to be a two-stage process. The first stage will involve submitting a high-level application showcasing how the proposed project aligns with the objectives of the Welsh Government. The highest scoring proposals will progress to the second phase. At this stage, applicants will be required to provide more detailed information on their proposals.
Sarah-Joy Lewis outlined that a minimum of three projects will be awarded. However, there is a possibility that the £750,000 will be split between more than three.
54% of participants voted for the highest level of funding for their project (£225,000-£250,000), implying there may be little room for any additional projects outside of the original 3 awards, should most projects apply for the highest level of funding.
Local Partnerships seeked to clarify if participants would consider match funding. 46% voted “yes”, whilst 50% voted “don’t know”, and 4% “no”. Match funding would mean that projects can cost significantly more than the funding available from Welsh Government. However, Local Partnerships confirmed that project awards will not be given based on cost.
Local Partnerships are enthusiastic to see partnership with industry. 96% of participants said they would consider working with another organisation when they apply, making the case for better collaboration and opportunity for the research to really enable industry in this way.
The key takeaways were:
- There will be a minimum of three awards in three research priority areas: Environmental, Engineering and Technical, and Socioeconomic and Financial.
- Welsh Government will be looking for project proposals to demonstrate research excellence, benefit to Wales and/or generate new knowledge of barriers to the industry.
- Project cost will not affect award.
- There will be 2 stages to the grant application process, a qualifying stage, and a more detailed outline of the research project.
- There will be consideration made for match funding.
- The majority of participants were interested in partnering with industry to complete their research projects, and Welsh Government are keen for them to do so.
Local Partnerships are looking to launch Stage 1 in the next 6 months. Comments and votes made in the webinar will be taken strongly into consideration for this. Awards will be given in Spring 2024.
The Tidal Lagoon Challenge Webinar turned out to be a spectacularly interesting and worthwhile event, helping participants to understand the main research areas Welsh Government are considering, as well as the factors influencing their decision, and the proposed grant application process. What is clear is that there is lots of opportunity for excellent research to help strengthen the business case for tidal range in Wales to UK Government and make Wales a leader in tidal range technology.
You can watch the webinar recording here: Tidal Lagoon Challenge Webinar