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Despite high expectations for the sector, most marine energy technologies remain in the research and development, or at best demonstration, phase. The industry is in a period of stagnation, and requires new approaches to overcome the challenges that inhibit widespread deployment. Small-scale initiatives have proven to be a successful means of developing other renewable technologies but their role in supporting marine energy is not well researched. This paper provides a review of the barriers and opportunities presented by different policy landscapes, financial support mechanisms, markets, key actors, and wider regulatory and governance issues. Semi-structured interviews with marine energy stakeholders from the UK, Canada and Denmark were used to explore the role of small-scale marine energy projects, and were supplemented by interviews with the general public in England. This showed that while marine energy is appropriately scalable for local projects, financing remains a major hurdle. Discretionary local authority finance, as well as other novel options such as crowdfunding, tends to be relatively modest, supporting the argument for small-scale projects. A market for smaller devices exists, particularly for remote communities currently dependent on expensive energy from oil-fired generators. There remains a significant role for small-scale projects in testing the technology, contributing to reductions in cost and environmental risk. Current processes for environmental impact assessment can present a significant hurdle for small projects, but proportionate, adaptive assessments are evolving. Finally, community ownership and public participation have the potential to increase advocacy for the industry, with multi-actor partnerships presenting a positive way forward.
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