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Success story article18 May 2017

Scottish SME beats big multinationals to tidal energy market

Nova Innovation

Harvesting the energy of our tides could be the next big source of clean, cheap and reliable electricity, but the sector is still in its infancy. Thanks to local support from the Enterprise Europe Network, Scotland’s Nova Innovation Ltd was able to connect its tidal technology to the grid well before the big multinational energy companies.

Last year Nova Innovation delivered the world’s first grid compliant tidal energy turbines in Shetland, Scotland. Deploying three 100 kW units, the Scottish innovator is now providing clean and constant energy to the community in Shetland. A feat that could be a template for future ocean energy generation.

“There are a lot of parallels with how onshore wind farms developed,” said Simon Forrest, CEO of Nova Innovation. “Early on there were a lot of big megawatt devices but they were commercial dead-ends because of the huge costs in maintaining them. Then businesses began building smaller wind farms and at this scale the technology became economically viable.”

Since its inception Nova Innovation’s mantra has been ‘start small, think big and move fast’ and this has earned it considerable success ahead of its competitors. However, it still had to deal with high development, installation and maintenance costs beyond its expertise, and so they sought advice from the Enterprise Europe Network, the world's largest support network for SMEs with international ambitions.

Personalised support

Since 2012 Network adviser Jane Watters, working at Scottish Enterprise in Glasgow, has been providing Nova Innovation with ongoing, tailored support that has helped the SME grow faster than it could have on its own. Through her involvement in the Network’s Intelligent Energy Sector Group, one of 17 groups that combine international business expertise with local knowledge, she was able to connect Nova Innovation with Mr Olivier Bontems, the Managing Director of a Belgian renewables investment company called ELSA Energy. This partnership resulted in an investment of EUR 2.2 million and the creation of Shetland Green Electricity, which ultimately allowed Nova Innovation to deploy the first three grid-compliant tidal energy turbines to the Scottish community.

“We review where we think they have opportunities and which upcoming calls for proposals are relevant,” said Watters. “They have taken great steps forward by using public support to speed up their development.”

The partnership with ELSA paved the way for a further GPB 1.8 million pound investment from the Scottish Government and put the company on good ground to apply for the Horizon 2020 SME Instrument, the EU programme helping innovative small firms with high growth potential. Nova Innovation received 2.25 million via the SME Instrument to reduce the lifetime cost of tidal power by 20%. Thanks to the Network, the company is now receiving additional EU funding through other innovation projects, all of which are helping reduce the cost of its technology further.  

Blue energy boom

“We have proven that you can produce grid-compliant electricity from tidal streams and that it can be done reliably with multiple turbines,” said Forrest.

As more countries look to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels, Nova Innovation is looking to become an industry leader and tap into the growing international market. As its technology becomes more and more cost competitive, this may soon become a reality.

“For an SME in Scotland to take on some of the biggest multinationals and deliver tidal energy projects ahead of them is a huge success" said Forrest. "There is no way we would’ve managed it without the Network’s help, guidance and support.”