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MERIKA Report Summary

Project ID: 315925
Funded under: FP7-REGPOT
Country: United Kingdom

Periodic Report Summary 2 - MERIKA (Marine Energy Research Innovation and Knowledge Accelerator)

Project Context and Objectives:
The Marine Energy Research Innovation and Knowledge Accelerator (MERIKA) Project at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), Scotland, commenced on 1st February 2014. The MERIKA project aims to enable UHI realising its ambition of becoming a European marine renewable energy research and innovation hub, through a combination of capacity upgrade, knowledge exchange and European and international engagement.
The Scottish Highlands and Islands region is endowed with a unique environment that enables research “where the resource is” for ocean wave, tidal and offshore wind energy. Marine energy has the potential to meet a growing share of Europe’s energy demands in the years to come. Research is needed to improve resource predictability, forecast techniques and to provide equipment to better investigate the potential of marine renewable energy in the well-preserved environment that is the Scottish Highlands and Islands region.
UHI already has an established position within the international research community and MERIKA represents the opportunity for a leap forward to acquire and reinforce its status as a European marine renewable energy research and innovation hub.
The MERIKA project involves cooperation with seven high profile scientific institutions across Europe and is centred on two main blocks of activities. One intervenes on capital (human and physical) and one builds capacity, especially in areas related to innovation and protection or exploitation of knowledge.
The first block consists of a comprehensive mobility programme with partnering organisations, a recruitment plan responding to precise needs for multidisciplinary competences to efficiently link different research strands, and a crucial upgrade in infrastructure, to enable UHI to function as the reference European hub for marine energy research.
The capacity-building component is geared towards a better use of complementary funds, the reinforcement of international collaboration and the definition of a coherent innovation policy to enhance UHI’s potential in its cooperation with industry and other stakeholders.

Summary of objectives
The overall objective of the MERIKA project is to transform UHI into a European marine renewable energy research and innovation hub. The project has and is doing this by:
• Building up scientific expertise at the University of the Highlands and Islands,
• Increasing knowledge generation potential and upgrading physical infrastructure,
• Undertaking a knowledge exchange (‘mobility’) programme of researcher secondments with leading European research institutions,
• Establishing links with European and international research organisations, and developing links with business, industry, and other stakeholders.

Project Results:
During the second period, the MERIKA project has:
• Concluded the procurement of €152,810 of innovative marine renewable energy research equipment – taking the overall Equipment costs of the project to just under € 830,000
• Retained a strong MERIKA project cohort, successfully recruiting new staff to the project when colleagues left to ensure peak resource capacity is retained
• Continued relationships with seven European ‘mobility’ partners and engaged in 42 mobility visits
• Participated in 43 networking events to support the growth of future research and industrial collaboration
• Delivered the Marine Renewable Energy Research Day in Brussels
• Contributed to the creation of a UHI innovation support structure focused on developing a range of MRE industry collaborations
The project is currently on schedule, within budget, and is expected to meet its deliverables and milestones. Although there have been minor deviations from the original work plan during the first and second periods, these have all been manageable and have not been detrimental to the project’s overall objectives and outputs. Corrective action has been taken in this regard to ensure that the project delivers to the work plan commitments.

Potential Impact:
• A measurable shift from a well-reputed national research institution to an established European research institution in the marine renewable energy sector
• A pipeline of MRE related research projects and business collaborations aligned with the UHI Strategic Vision and Plan of focused research, enterprise and innovation, and a university for all of our region
• An investment in management and knowledge exchange capacity, as well as improved processes to deal with higher levels of complexity in research and innovation
• The consolidation of MRE as a research strength that can contribute to the next Research Excellence Framework
• The MRE research strengths reflected in the university’s curriculum

The “Research and Innovation Hub” model

The primary aim of the MERIKA project is to turn UHI into a hub for marine renewable energy research, capable of attracting eminent research teams, establishing scientific collaborations, and building links with industry. To achieve this, UHI has undergone a substantial upgrade of its capacity in four dimensions.
People and Knowledge
The internal assessment carried out prior to proposal preparation and summarised in the SWOT results pointed to high levels of research excellence at UHI, but with “knowledge gaps” in specific areas (IT modelling, policy, physics and engineering). This has been met by attracting new scientists from a range of disciplines and backgrounds in the marine renewable energy field, and implementing a coaching and training programme to significantly upskill existing and new staff to fill these “knowledge gaps”.

Infrastructure and equipment levels at UHI did not meet with the research and innovation hub aspirations of MERIKA, so an upgrade was a priority to meet this goal. During Period 2, around €152,810 of new equipment has been procured to enhance the university’s infrastructure capacity in support of ocean wave, tidal and offshore wind energy research. This led to a grand total spend of just under €830,000 including deployment and installation costs over the course of the project.

Management Processes
Research and innovation processes have grown in complexity in the last 20 years. Moving to a higher level of scientific and industrial collaborations means that new expertise has to be injected into the institution, and processes adapted to the needs of increasingly globalised research. A restructuring of innovation management at UHI during the second project period has led to the creation of new innovation support structures. In particular, an Energy Innovation Support Office, with a marine energy focus, has been established and aligns with earlier MERIKA training and IP initiatives, as well as the innovation and business engagement strategy pursued over the course of the second MERIKA project period.

Collaboration with industry
Understanding technology trends and industry dynamics is a key factor to the success of the “research and innovation hub” model described in the proposal. The lifetime of MERIKA has seen a marked change in MRE market conditions. There has been a significant downturn in R&D investment, which has reshaped the commercial environment through 2014 and beyond. MERIKA has adapted its industry collaboration plans for the second project period, to fit with this new landscape, and built a number of industry partnerships. The newly established Energy Innovation Support Office (EISO) builds on this work, acting as a commercial outward looking interface that:
• supports collaborative business R&D
• coordinates knowledge exchange and business development initiatives
• manages industry engagement, commercial research opportunities and training initiatives
• initiates business sponsorship and entrepreneurship programmes

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