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Tidal innovation and the SME Instrument


Tidal turbine project and device developer Nova Innovation was one of the companies to be successful in the first round of the SME Instrument funding call earlier this year. It is one of only two marine energy companies to secure European funding thanks in no small part to the work of the Enterprise Europe Network Scotland team.

“The competition for first-round SME instrument funding was fierce,” Enterprise Europe Network’s Jane Watters said. “There was a 6% success rate for the relevant funding call, with Nova Innovation being one of only three Scottish companies funded across all industries.” 

Who is Nova Innovation?

Nova Innovation provides the full end-to-end service for tidal energy, or ‘water-to-wire’ solutions. It is involved in the entire supply chain: from designing and building the turbines; acquiring sea bed leases and consents; installation; through to power supply to the grid and ongoing operation. In April 2014 Nova Innovation installed their first 30kW tidal turbine in the Bluemull Sound in Shetland – the world’s first community-owned tidal turbine – and they are in the process of developing an array of turbines at the same site.

Simon Forrest (Managing Director) and Gary Connor (Technical Director) founded the company in 2010 with the help of a Scottish Enterprise SMART Award for an early research and development feasibility study.

Gary has built up considerable knowledge of turbine designs working at Edinburgh and Strathclyde Universities, and Simon has over 20 years’ worth of electrical engineering corporate experience with Wood MacKenzie, ScottishPower and IBM.

Nova Innovation has also received huge support from Kevin Norris, Account Manager at Scottish Enterprise through Scottish Investment Bank funding and the High Growth start-up programme. “Scottish Enterprise has been there to help us build and expand the business, even through the lean times,” says Project and Business Development Manager Gavin McPherson. “Their belief in the company has been phenomenal, and the company has benefited significantly from their knowledge and experience.”

Vital support

Gavin said, “We had looked at the SME Instrument funding and thought it would be so competitive that our efforts should be concentrated elsewhere. But Jane Watters from the Enterprise Europe Network team came to see us two weeks before the deadline; Jane convinced us to apply and helped us to tailor our application to answer the funding criteria. Jane’s support was critical to winning the bid.”

A timely introduction by Jane Watters saw the start of a significant partnership with Belgian renewable energy project developer, ELSA. Along with additional investment from the Renewable Energy Investment Fund (REIF) and ELSA, Nova Innovation is developing an array of turbines off the coast of Shetland, near to the site of its community-owned turbine.

Support for innovation

Tidal is still very much an emerging sector, with Scotland at the forefront in terms of innovation, number of businesses, workforce and device installations.

It’s a costly business to design, prototype and install tidal turbines. The technology is new, manufacturing costs are high for small production numbers, particularly as much of the supply chain services the well-established oil and gas industry, which sets a high price-point for the emerging tidal industry. Add to that the risks associated with operating at sea and it all makes for a challenging investment model.

“Where possible you want to use tried and tested, off-the-shelf components” Gavin told us. “However, significant innovation will be required to bring the costs of tidal energy down, and that requires research. Fortunately the need for research funding is well recognised, and we’ve been successful to date in securing funds.”

Simon and Gary’s combined knowledge of tried and tested technology got Nova Innovation started, but now it’s about innovating to take the business to the next stage. That’s why the SME Instrument is so significant.

The funding will help Nova Innovation to develop a feasibility study for Nova Innovation’s Direct Drive Tidal Turbine over the next six months. “This funding allows us to take slightly greater risks with research and development, and therefore more room for critical innovation” says Gavin. “In the long run it will allow us to build robust devices that generate energy more efficiently. We believe that this particular innovation could bring the cost of energy production down by around 20 per cent if we can get to a point where we are volume-manufacturing. And that needs the demand of export markets.”

It’s not just about funding. Companies receive business coaching as part of the package of support through the SME instrument, during the application process as well afterwards.

Where next for Nova Innovation?

“In terms of this project, the next six months is very much about producing a robust commercial feasibility study for the Direct Drive Tidal Turbine,” says Gavin. “In parallel the design of the device is being refined, following which the next stage would be a two-year build and test programme. And then we can look at trading in the UK, European and international markets.

“In addition, we are in the process of building our first tidal array in the Bluemull Sound in Shetland. This is potentially the world’s first in-sea tidal array so it is a very exciting time for our business.”

Find out more

Could SME Instrument funding be right for your company? The third round of calls for the SME Instrument programme is currently open. Visit the Enterprise Europe Scotland pages to find out more.