Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH 2001
20. We know whom you are having a crack at.
(Mr Bronsdon) Yes, just some brief comments. I believe
the level of support that will be required is large. I am not
sufficiently well versed actually to put a figure to that, but
I would imagine tens, if not hundreds, of millions is something
of the order that could be envisaged; but that is dependent also
upon the level of exploitation that the UK is hoping to achieve
from this resource, and the speed of development at which it hopes
it will take off. Now, in terms of the means of assessing what
would be a reasonable stage for a device to develop to full scale,
one fairly basic measure could be the power output per unit cost,
because, in that way, you will be looking actually at not necessarily
picking a winner but picking a device that gives the best efficiency
or optimum conditions. In terms of the overall driver for where
this should be heading, I think it has to be kept in mind that
the aim is to try to get the UK to meet emissions reduction targets
for carbon dioxide emissions, amongst other things; in that sense,
going for larger-scale developments of a number of devices is
likely to have a better chance of success than picking one particular
winner, as was mentioned previously.
Chairman: Fine. Now I am going to move on, because
we have several more questions to get through before five o'clock.
21. Thank you, Chair. Dr Taylor, the electricity
privatisation in 1989 was encouraged to develop renewable energy
sources, under the banner of Renewables Obligation, to promote
renewable energy, and to provide electricity, promoting the UK,
for our customers. I wonder if you have any opinion on how successful
this approach has been, and if there is anything you would want
to change, and anything you would want to promote, or has it failed?
(Dr Taylor) The principle of a Renewables Obligation
is a good one, it is a good principle; however, it has not been
banded, so that there is not, within it,
22. Why is it a good approach?
(Dr Taylor) It is very early to see yet what it leads
to, because, of course, it has not yet officially come in but,
from my discussions with developers, certainly it has the potential
to create a market for renewable energy, and it is a premium market
that it creates, a small premium price, and that will make a difference
for, certainly, onshore wind, which can come in there. The Government
has made announcements about how you look at the problems faced
by offshore wind, which cannot get into the price that will be
achieved under the Obligation, the buy-out price; the problem
is even more acute for wave power. And there needs to be things
in addition to a blanket Obligation, that is the point I would
make, in the context of this inquiry into wave and tidal power.
On its own, it would just result in the cheapest and not necessarily
the best, in fact it could result in undesirable, technologies.
And what we want is that the technologies that have long-term
potential, or would have immediate potential but cannot make it,
have grants to bring them in; and that could be done either by
banding the Obligation and having technology bands within it,
or it can be done by having grants to assist technologies to come
into that. And it seems to be that the Government is looking towards
grants, that is what it is doing with offshore wind, it should
certainly be doing that to close the gap for wave power.
(Mr Bronsdon) I would agree, to some extent, that
the premium price is an advantage for those technologies which
are nearest the market, if not operating in the market, because
the driver for a generation or supply company is to benefit financially
from their investment. At the same time, by not banding the Obligation,
you are creating a barrier to any technology that is outside that
area, so further support would be encouraged. At the same time,
that further support could be banded into a reference against
the potential of that resource, as its development essentially
has shown, to date. Whether or not that will bring sufficient
capacity on board in the time that is required is another issue
that needs to be taken forward at the same time. Looking back
at the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligations and the Scottish Renewables
Orders, that were put in place, they were banded Obligations;
at the same time, the success of the number of projects that were
proposed and accepted, against those that have been commissioned,
have not shown the development rate that was anticipated, and
that was with a banded Obligation, which gave a preference to
23. We have already touched on this, about how
we drive this thing forward and we find champions, and so on.
It is often argued, I am sure you are familiar with it, that we
are just playing around with this, it is nice to keep it on the
back-burner, but we are not really doing it seriously. You have
mentioned Denmark several times about; what is the message, what
is the crux, in Denmark, that makes the whole thing tick and make
it look credible and impressive? What is it, generically, we need
to do in this country to pull it together, do you think? If we
could do something tomorrow, what would it be?
(Mr Bronsdon) Taking the Denmark example, I think
the reason why they have been far more successful in the approach
they have taken is they have a limited resource, and they have
only certain options that they can turn to for development, and
they have committed themselves to the development of those options.
Within the UK, from the historical position, there is a legacy
of generation that exists, and there is also a diversity of supply
sources. At present, the economics are not on the point of benefiting
new and emerging technologies too well, and, also, due to the
current lifetime of existing generation plant, there is not perhaps
the political signal that is recognised, to stress the urgency
that is needed.
24. You do not think it is because there is
a national test facility there; you think it comes from the political
(Mr Bronsdon) That will be an additional factor, that
they have recognised that and set that up.
25. And not here; we could not do it, you think,
it would be too troublesome?
(Mr Bronsdon) No, I believe we could, if we commit
ourselves to that route.
26. Right. Ian Taylor?
(Dr Taylor) You were saying that Denmark had a limited
number of options, so they have had to go for it. I think what
that boils down to is that they have had the determination and
they have adopted a `can do' attitude. And I have to say that
I find that, repeatedly, what comes back from the Department of
Trade and Industry, and others, about these situations, is a `cannot
do' attitude. I have a letter that was faxed to me this morning,
it is from the DTI, which is a reiteration of the position that
they do not expect wave power to achieve anything within the next
ten years; and that is going to lead to a world-trailing position.
And I think a `can do' attitude, that sets up a determination
to do it, that signals clearly to investors it is a very clear
thing; it needs to be backed up by things like test centres, and
all of these other layers.
27. We all want to improve the London tube,
but, the trouble is, everybody is arguing about how you do it,
and I think we may be a hundred years waiting for somebody to
do it; but if we decide we are going to do it here, who is going
to do it, how do we get the partnerships, and who would be in
the partnerships, or should Government just take a lead and do
(Dr Taylor) We went to Scotland with the Rainbow Warrior
to advertise wave power; and one of the things which is really
striking about that, which is really encouraging, is the cross-sectoral
and the great enthusiasm for this. And I think there is a moment
to be grabbed now, and I would be quite optimistic that there
is, in fact, cross-sectoral, cross-party, buy-in, and let us seize
the moment. And I think we should not be too hard on ourselves,
that, yes, the UK, to a degree, has been bypassed and is now buying
Danish technology for wind power; but there are a lot of industrial
and academic strengths, and there are people in this room, indeed,
who bring great intellectual resources to this, and next week
we will be hearing from those that are very strong in entrepreneurial
strengths. And I would say that what it needs is just a bit of
will power, from Government, up front.
Dr Gibson: We need a czar, we need a wave and
tidal czar; do you think that is what we need?
Dr Turner: Oh, no.
Dr Iddon: We have got two.
Dr Gibson: We have got czars to the right and
czars to the left; we have got three, actually. But you know what
I mean, you need a champion to drive it, a minister, or somebody,
who really commits himself; too dangerous, perhaps?
Chairman: I think there was a general nod to
that, was there not. Dr Kumar, before we go to Mr McWalter.
Dr Kumar: It is interesting, Chairman, that
Dr Gibson, at every meeting, wants a czar for everything; but
how lovely that he never lets his czar down.
Dr Gibson: Or a czarina.
Chairman: He has forgotten 1917, perhaps.
Dr Gibson: Never.
28. Dr Taylor, you commented on a `cannot do'
approach in the DTI. Do you see that actually as from the civil
servants, or do you see that as coming from ministers as well?
Why do you think it is, so I will leave it very open and broad
for you to comment on, but why is there this `cannot do' approach,
because the Government seems to be taking huge leaps on everything
else that we see, modernising every aspect of our lives, yet here
you are saying, well, we have not got a `can do' approach on this
(Dr Taylor) I think ministers have attempted to give
a good lead, and that it is an immensely cumbersome process and
department to deal with. As I said, John Battle launched the renewal
of the R&D programme, which is still small. I do not have
any special insights on where that state of mind stems from, but
I am absolutely sure that it is there and I encounter it again
and again. I am fortunate to sit in an organisation that has an
international perspective, and I think I would despair, sometimes,
if it were not that I have international colleagues, who sit in
other countries, where other examples are there and where things
are happening, and you can show that it is possible to achieve
these solutions, these environmental and industrial solutions.
Dr Kumar: Perhaps we should send our civil servants
to Europe and somewhere else, so that they could feel that?
Chairman: And not come back. Fine. We must move
on. We have got a couple more questions.
29. In a way, you are almost inviting the Government
sort of to put the equivalent of the Millennium Dome off the coast
of Orkney somewhere, to produce energy for a far greater cost
than it is produced through any other mechanism; and, I think,
if there were a czar, or a czarina, they might not last very long
with the resulting flak. And, also, perhaps rather similar to
the Millennium Dome as well, in that, if we then talk to the experts,
we are not quite clear what we put in it, which mechanisms for
harnessing wave and tidal power we actually utilise. Given all
those uncertainties, the enormous expense, and so on, why should
the Government commit itself to this, rather than to wind power
and other renewable sources, which do not have damaging gaseous
consequences but which are quite well proved, and which, clearly,
could make a very important contribution to the reduction of those
(Mr Bronsdon) If I can come back against the uncertainties
issue you raised, there is a lot of uncertainty in trying to look
at what the impact of developing technology in this area could
be; however, you need to frame that against what are the certainties
that the UK is facing. Now I have included within my memorandum
a look forward at the future for Scotland as a market itself,
against the CO2 target that it will try to achieve, and also the
energy supply measures that are finite in their lifetime; those
are, namely, the two operating nuclear power stations within Scotland.
In the next ten years, you are likely to see half of the nuclear
power capacity in Scotland move into a decommissioning phase;
at the same time, beyond that, in another ten, 15 years' time,
the second power station could, at the moment, move into the same
decommissioning phase. With each closure you will see a jump in
emissions, in the order of around 4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide
a year. As a result, the drivers for looking at the real implications
of development for the future are already on the ground, you can
see the cliff face for Scotland and you can see the same kinds
of issues, looking at the theoretical and the probable lifetimes
for existing plant elsewhere in the UK. Now the only thing I would
add onto that is that that cliff face may be moved nearer in time,
through the actions of some of the support measures that could
be put in place. Developing a resource in an area that is far
from the demand centre will incur transmission loss charges; as
an operator of a system, it is more beneficial to be closer to
the area of demand, because you end up having less of your profit
taken. So most new developments would look to locate in the South
East of the UK. At the same time, if the zonal charges are introduced,
which is being proposed, then existing generators, in some of
the more remote areas, ie in Scotland, could be penalised and
could have their economics affected, they might close even earlier,
which creates even more of a problem. So a coherent approach must
address all of these uncertainties.
30. Have you got a brief comment to add to that?
(Dr Taylor) Very briefly.
31. I would be grateful if you would keep it
(Dr Taylor) We are not asking for a dome, that was
a billion; 1 per cent of a dome would be £10 million, that
would be more than enough for a test centre, and that would get
the British wave industry over a very significant hump, which
they might otherwise have to depart to Portugal for.
32. That sounds to me extremely cheap, I have
to say, I would want to see the costings of that.
(Dr Taylor) It is.
33. But, given that it has got to be in reasonably
deep water, this device that you are putting, and the coststhe
Danes are finding putting offshore wind turbines in 75 feet of
water quite difficult and prohibitive, clearly you need much deeper
water than that and a very, very large edifice, I would have thought.
I am amazed at your costings, although, of course, I have not
seen the justification for that; £50 million seems to me
to be way under what I would have expected, and that, surely,
is a very important reason why Government would see wind power
as more attractive, because you can implement it much more quickly?
(Dr Taylor) Can I just say, I think that there will
be witnesses to follow who could tell you what a test centre might
34. I will take note of that.
(Mr Bronsdon) Just to add to that, I think it would
be looking at the test centre, rather than looking at the investment
it requires to exploit the resource fully; they are different
35. I think my questions should be aimed at
Dr Taylor, they are a bit Greenpeacey, I think. All energy generation
has an impact on the environment, that is obvious, including,
of course, wave and tidal methods. Have you established a hierarchy
by which you could tell us which of the wave and tidal methods
would create the least negative environmental impact?
(Dr Taylor) We have not established a hierarchy. There
is, I think, very good evidence that wave power can be a very
benign source of energy; yes, all sorts of energy do have impacts.
The form of wave power that is based on the coast, which is actually
built into a cliff face, obviously has a local impact, and there
are a limited number of sites, although quite a considerable number
of sites, where you could do that. When you go to the longer term,
or where the resource really is, offshore, then the one question
that somebody raised with me, which I perhaps ought to scotch
right now, is will not this turn the UK waters into a sort of
sleepy lagoon, to quote a song, will this not extract a significant
proportion of the energy; and this will not be the case, and the
reason for that is that a very large proportion of the energy
that hits our shores comes through in peak events. And anybody
who has looked at sedimentology and studied sedimentologymy
background is in sedimentologywill know that peak events
have a disproportionate impactjust to give an example of
why that is so clearly the case, the average energy to the west
coast of Scotland, per metre width of wave front, is about 60
or 70 kilowatts, on average, across the year, that is 60, or so,
bar fires, to use the normal comparison. Now, in a storm, that
will rise to something like 2,000 kilowatts, two megawatts, and,
in fact, at a very peak moment, and I have taken these figures
from Ocean Power Delivery, that will hit 20 megawatts. Now the
point I am making is that your device has to be invisible to those
energies, otherwise it will break up; you have got to tune it
to the lower energies and detune it to the higher energies, so
the energy that mainly impacts on our shorelines has to come through.
So perhaps that is just one point which has been raised with me
which was worth scotching at the outset.
36. These devices are going in pretty deep water,
we have barnacle growth and other problems of that kind; they
will have to be protected by anti-fouling paints, which, at the
moment, are pretty toxic, I mention tributyl tin, which we hear
a lot about in this place. Have you any comments to make on the
impact of the paint on the sea-life?
(Dr Taylor) Indeed, Greenpeace has campaigned against
certain toxic anti-foulants; there are other forms of anti-foulant
which are less toxic. But these are issues. They are issues though
that are shared between wave power and many other marine applications,
they are not unique to wave power or tidal power.
37. So you are happy to weigh the downside with
the upside, unless we can find a replacement paint?
(Dr Taylor) Yes, and I think that that weighing is
something which is not done, generally. When you do impact assessments,
one of the problems is that the strategic view is not often taken;
the fact that there is a benefit to the climate is not weighted
into it. This has been a problem with wind power and we have been
trying to institute a proactive approach to these sorts of decisions
that weighs in the positive at the outset. And, yes, that has
to be weighed against some local impacts, on some occasions.
38. My final question to Dr Taylor is that these
things, obviously, have pretty high-speed moving devices somewhere
in the body of them; what about the impact on creatures great
and small, in the sea, of course?
(Dr Taylor) The wave power devices, which I am more
aware of, I am not aware of a device that looks like it has potential
to chew up fish, or whatever.
(Dr Taylor) There are different technologies that
might have different effects if you are looking at installing
these devices, if you look at the tidal devices, and you need
to look at them technology by technology, I think that they look
like they have the potential to be pretty benign; they need to
be looked at on the basis of each one. There are not any there
yet to be tested, and they need to be tested, obviously, and I
think the comment is that I would be optimistic that, with proper
monitoring, they do not need to have hugely detrimental effects
at all, they look like they can be benign technologies.