Pembrokeshire is perhaps best known for its picturesque coastline, world-class beaches and rugged charm, but tucked away amongst it all is Wales’ national Marine Energy Test Area (META) – a national facility that’s helping to drive innovation.

The only test facility of its kind in Wales, META was set up to reduce the time, cost and risks associated with deploying new marine energy technologies, and offers testing in real-sea conditions across eight sites in Pembrokeshire.

Saul Young, Operations Manager at META gives an insight below on how the facility is helping advance the industry in Wales.

Q: When was META established and why? Was it a long process?

It took META around three years to acquire the relevant permissions and develop its site data catalogue. We’ve been operational since 2021, and we’re now really starting to achieve the original aim of the project, which is to get more marine energy devices into the water in Wales to test, validate and improve, ultimately accelerating their pathway towards commercialisation and contribution to clean energy generation.

A common problem for technology developers and researchers is not being able to easily access real sea sites to test and validate their innovations. It takes a lot of time and money to gain all the permissions required to deploy something in the sea, and the same can be said of the efforts required to characterise a site through detailed marine environmental survey work.

META looks to alleviate this problem, by providing consented sites for testing a large variety of different marine energy devices and technologies, whilst providing the environmental data required to o design a device and test plan.

Q. Where are the areas located?

There are eight META sites all located in or around the Milford Haven Waterway in Pembrokeshire, West Wales.

Q. META is the only pre-commercial, pre-consented test facility of its kind in Wales – what does that mean practically?

Firstly, it means we have all the necessary permissions in place to test a whole host of different wave, tidal and floating wind devices and components. These permissons include a Marine Licence from Natural Resources Wales, a Seabed Lease from the Crown Estate and a Marine Works Licence from Milford Haven Port Authority. The fact we already have these permissions in place saves technology developers and researchers considerable time and cost.

The sites are considered ‘pre-commercial’ as they are designed to test devices and components that are not yet ready for market, but are ready to be deployed at sea, to understand and validate how they perform in a realistic operational environment. The META sites are not commercial as they don’t have a grid connection, meaning you can’t export and sell any of the electricty generated – they are about proving technology is ready for a commercial site.

Q. Who can test at META? What technologies are the sites designed for?

The META sites are consented for testing wave energy and tidal stream energy devices, as well as components such as moorings, anchors and foundations.

We also have consent to test floating wind components (not including wind turbines), and a whole host of marine environmental monitoring equipment.

We are currently exploring making an application to add floating solar and seaweed aquaculture testing activities to our consented envelope.

Q. What makes Pembrokeshire and the META sites unique? Why should people test here?

Our sites along the Pembrokeshire coast cover a large range of depths and exposures, to accommodate testing different scenarios, and crucially they are all easily accessible. Nearly all of our sites are also located alongside or near excellent port and engineering facilities to assist you in your deployment.

Q. How crucial is META to advancing Wales’ marine renewable energy industry?

The marine renewable energy industry is pushing towards commercialisation, but innovation is very much still required to be able to solve engineering challenges, improve efficiency and reduce costs, and that’s where META comes in. At our sites, you can trial and derisk innovative systems and solutions before they are implemented at a commercial scale.

Q. To date how many projects has META supported?

Since becoming operational in 2021, META has supported eight projects ranging from testing of novel sensors, marine coatings and low-carbon concrete, to testing a new mooring system for floating wind turbines and most recently a tidal turbine. The wide variety of innovations tested at META to date demonstrates the range of projects we can cater for.

Q. What projects are happening now and are there any exciting ones planned for deployment in the near future?

Right now, Exo-Engineering are testing their innovative scour protection units, designed to protect subsea infrastructure and promote marine biodiversity.

Swansea University have also recently tested a new tidal turbine at Warrior Way, and with the tidal stream sector really gaining momentum in Wales and the UK, we are expecting more tidal turbines to be tested at this site soon.

We do also have some exciting projects planned for the near future – Dolphyn Hydrogen are planning to test the performance of some of their components in a floating environment. PEBL Environmental Monitoring also have plans to test various marine biodiversity remote monitoring stations, designed to improve monitoring capabilities which will help us avoid any negative impacts on marine habitats and species.

Q. How can people in Pembrokeshire and further afield stay informed on what’s being tested at META?

Sign up to our newsletter, follow us on social media, drop us an email or even stop by our office and say hello – we’re a friendly bunch!

Saul joined the META Project as Operations Manager in 2020. He was previously Project Officer at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC). In this role he brings EMEC expertise developing wave and tidal test sites to META and supports the following tasks: SOP development; Client Management; and Environment and Consents.

Saul has worked in various practical roles related to the marine environment as a marine science research assistant and outdoor education facilitator. Saul has a Masters in Marine Renewable Energy. Through his MSc study in Orkney and especially working for EMEC Saul has gained a thorough understanding of the technical, operational, environmental and commercial aspects of marine renewable energy projects.