Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH 2001
H SALTER FRSE AND
80. So a big culture change?
(Professor Salter) The trouble is that the value of
the full-size demonstration in public relations is very high,
the decision-makers do not really believe it until they see the
kilowatt hour meter going round; they do not seem to be able to
understand equations and algebra and lines on graphs, which are
very much cheaper to get. Because of the pressure to get something
in the sea quickly, people cut corners and do not do those initial
81. If I were Peter Hain and I had just inherited
the energy brief at the DTI, I would have my eye, obviously, on
the Secretary of State's, or the Government's, target of 10 per
cent renewables by 2010, which is a pretty tall order; we are
pretty well down the line now, and, what is it, 1 or 2 per cent,
2 or 3 per cent, we are at the wrong end of the scale anyhow.
I would also be looking at wind power and some other renewable
technologies, solar, for example, and they are well advanced,
and if I were going to put my research money, or I was going to
make the push, I might, in view of that target, be pushing with
what I already know, rather than what I probably do not know.
How would you advise Peter Hain, if you were thinking along those
(Professor Salter) There have always been blue-eyed
boys, who suddenly turn out not to be quite as blue as you thought.
I can remember, there was a very big effort on hot dry rock, and
we were drilling lots of things into rock, down in Cornwall, and
this was the best of them all, and then that faded out, rather
sadly. What we want is not to try to back the winner but to back
all of them, then you are certain to get the winner as well.
82. So you are not giving any of these renewable
technologies a priority; wind is not a greater priority than wave
and tidal? You think they all ought to go in parallel, with equal
(Professor Salter) I think wind does not need it any
more, I think wind is now a commercial success. Wind plants are
being installed now without any subsidy at all; so that is now
up and running. What you do not want to do is stop the next one
from getting there.
83. Just on that point, if I may come in, you
are saying: back all the alternative technologies? What about
within one given technology, the one we are talking about now,
would you back all the projects or would you try to be selective
(Professor Salter) You want to be selective in an
intelligent way, you do not want to strangle any babies; let them
grow a bit, tell them what they have got to achieve. What actually
happens if a project is not going to succeed is that people will
drop off themselves. They are the people who really know about
it; if you find that people are leaving the team then you know
that they know that it is no good. So this is the best test.
Dr Iddon: Could we ask Mr Thorpe if basically
he agrees with Professor Salter, or does he have an alternative
84. We have had a lot of fairly contentious
evidence from Professor Salter there; would you like to endorse
it, or argue against it?
(Mr Thorpe) It is a general endorsement. I agree with
the observations made that the renewables target of the Government
is a very ambitious one, it is not as ambitious as I believe the
European Union's target is. To get there, I think, we need to
play all the cards in our hand. I would not go so far as to say
to back all the technologies, because we have proven things like
hot dry rocks will never, ever, be commercially viable in this
country; but we do have a handful of technologies which, I believe,
each can make its own contribution. I do not see the renewables
competing against each other. Renewables are our insurance policy
for the future, and, as that, I believe that those which have
reasonable prospects of being commercially viable, or not putting
too much of a strain on the taxpayer's pocket, they should all
85. I hear what you say about wind power, but
it is onshore wind power which is commercially viable at the moment,
is it not; offshore wind power has still got some major difficulties,
and, indeed, there are commercial pilots going ahead in Denmark
to that effect? So I am bit worried about you just blanketing
all of that; there is a problem?
(Professor Salter) I think I would disagree with you.
I think that offshore wind is going to be a commercial success
very quickly. I am afraid I cannot tell you the name of the company
that is going to do it, but I am working with them, and it is
going to go very, very soon.
86. Do you feel, tell us, we are in Government,
tell us what it is necessary for the Government to provide, now,
and what can we reasonably expect the private sector to be providing,
in this regard; because in the Danish examples you have given
the private sector really has been very, very strongly in the
lead, in terms of the engineering and the technology?
(Professor Salter) The private sector needs to get
its money back in about three years, and an advantage that wind
had was that you could start off with a very small wind turbine,
even a privately-owned one, and you could make it work and you
could learn things. Unfortunately, wave energy has a bigger ante
to put in. The initial step size must be quite large, and that
is really quite a strain for a small company or a private individual;
and so we have to get over that first step. I think I would put
a lot of money into PhD studentships, I think the value you get
for that is astonishingly high. I notice that your technical adviser
was once a PhD student at Edinburgh University. The value and
enthusiasm and the determination that you get out of students
is really amazingly good, and you can get a new device, a long
way into its assessment, for the cost of a studentship. I would
like to see this nice, transparent assessment, that everybody
can understand, so that they can use the results of a bad design
and improve it. I would like to see good model testing facilities,
and I would like to see everybody having access to the computer
software that would let them do the calculations on the work.
So those are the things; and that costs very little.
87. You opened this before.
(Professor Salter) That is what I do know.
88. Of course, the University of Edinburgh wave
tank, that project was curtailed; will it be a significant loss
to national research and development, or will you be able to find
other ways of doing that?
(Professor Salter) There are other tanks around; nearly
everybody who has come to work in ours has gone away and built
their own one. There are people who would like to get some of
the bits of ours, and I am trying to raise money for an alternative
site. The question you are asking, about how to make renewable
energy go, I think I would say that you had the right financial
incentives when you had the bounty paid on a particular, designated
form of renewable, which is what you had initially with the non-fossil
fuel obligation. Interestingly, wave energy was specifically excluded
from the early days of that, and, in fact, Scotland was specifically
excluded from the early days of NFFO. But what you do not want
to do is the present arrangement, where you are saying to distributors:
"You must have 10 per cent, or X per cent, of your electricity
supply coming from any renewable source that you choose."
This, I think, is going to favour the ones that do not need it
any more, this is the same thing about pushing the weakest nestling
out of the nest. Inevitably they will behave just as the canal
89. So that would be an anti-research attitude,
and it may actually result in an insufficient volume of electricity
supply, as a result?
(Professor Salter) Yes. Have bands for each type of
renewable, as you had before; actually that did work quite well.
90. Mr Thorpe, do you wish to add anything to
the questions that have been asked by Mr McWalter?
(Mr Thorpe) I think there will be two or three things.
Yes, I believe that the Renewables Obligations and the way they
look as though they are going to be put forward treat all renewables
as though they are the same, whether they have received support
from this Government for the past 20 years, or, as in wave energy,
for just the past two years. It is not a level playing-field.
I think there needs to be a tranche set aside for tidal stream
energy and for wave energy, because they are not ready to compete
against onshore wind. The next point I have to make is with some
reluctance, considering the laughter it provoked earlier; a czar
for wave energy, I think it is a damn good idea. Who has responsibility
for making any renewable energy succeed in this country? I am
not sure that anybody does carry that responsibility. Most of
the work I have done has been in industry, and whenever I have
worked on a project there is one person there who has the responsibility
but also the authority to make a project succeed. I think a lot
of the things that go wrong in the renewable energy field in this
country is because it falls between the cracks, nobody is carrying
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.
91. I think I would like both your views on
this one. I have visited the Danish wind industry myself, so I
know that there is not just a commercial return there, in terms
of energy production, but thousands of jobs, export potential,
an enormous potential return, which is just starting to realise
big time, for a small country like Denmark. So the answer to the
question, do you think some other EU countries have succeeded
in making a commercial success of this, is obviously yes. Can
you tell us what lessons you think that the UK Government can
learn from countries like Denmark, who have really gone for it
and succeeded, in terms of our future in wave and tide, where
we have the natural resource that is out there waiting to be exploited?
(Mr Thorpe) I think the Danish approach to wind energy,
which is starting to apply to wave energy over there as well,
there have been two or three factors in there. The first is timescale;
the Danish Government never imagined that it was going to build
a viable wind industry in two to three years, it was in it for
the long haul, and it took about 10 to 12 years for it really
to take off and be an award-winning export industry. They were
not demanding of outrageous performance of their early turbines,
they were very expensive, but the costs carried on coming down,
so they did not make a judgement on their early lack of success.
They were very good at creating a market, they had various different
incentives, which were very highly focused at the people who were
building the turbines or buying the turbines, and that market
was a long-term market, it was not going to be something that
might disappear in five or ten years. But, most of all, there
was the political commitment, which sent signals to the market,
and got people, the big companies, who are now employing thousands
of people worldwide, to invest in what looked like a harebrained
novel technology and turn it into a mature source of energy.
(Professor Salter) I do not think I can add anything
to that. I think that is exactly right.
Dr Turner: Finally, could you make any suggestion
as to the scope for international co-operation?
92. Mr Thorpe, it was a question that we ended
up with, I think, with the last two witnesses.
(Mr Thorpe) Just an hour before coming here, I was
'phoned by the Chair of Teamwork Technology, in The Netherlands,
who was asking about what steps were being taken up in Scotland
about setting up this centre for wave and tidal energy. I think,
if we made it attractive enough, now this could be a showplace
for your technology; we do not pay for their technology, we just
provide the facilities around it, that is why it comes in so cheaply.
We could attract people over here and have them concentrate their
research and development here. I think the prospects are very
good. There is only one company that I know of who would not take
this up, and they are quite paranoid anyway; most of them would
jump at a chance, if the UK, or Scotland, decided to take a lead,
and say: "We're going to make this technology work worldwide."
93. Do you feel that Government should take
a leading role in this, at least as a broker, and perhaps it could
even be an opportunity, you said Scotland, perhaps a slip of the
tongue, I do not know, but Scotland has got regional government,
it could even be something that a devolved government, the Government
of Wales, could perhaps get directly involved in?
(Mr Thorpe) I say Scotland because there has been
a marked difference. I have been asked to provide the technical
input to the Scottish Commission for Wave Energy, which has a
number of Scottish MSPs, people from non-governmental organisations,
and from industry; they seem to be proactive, in trying to make
something happen up there. They see our construction of wave energy
devices taking up as the construction of offshore oil and gas
rigs starts to drop off; so they have got the commitment up there.
94. Professor Salter, do you wish to add anything
(Professor Salter) No. I think that is exactly right.
95. Can I then put a final question to you,
because, during the course of this evidence session, which I think
has been a very concise evidence session, I think we have learned
a lot from it, but I would like to ask you both, in turn, what
is the one thing that you would like to see, above any other,
to help push forward the whole programme of renewable energy but
with particular emphasis on wave and tide? And I have put five
things down here, that you can choose from, but it may be that
the one thing you want to put forward is not on my list of five.
But I thought: a critical mass amount of research and development
money; national resolve; government leadership; financial inducements
to give a return on investment; or private sector involvement;
Now it may be one of those, it may be something that is not on
my list. But can I ask you first, Professor Salter, what is the
one thing you would like to see, to push forward these programmes?
(Professor Salter) It is the government side of it;
all the others follow from that. What we want is the backing that
Churchill gave to the nuclear people.
(Mr Thorpe) I would agree with Professor Salter's
assessment, but, in practical terms, the thing I think will be
most important for tidal and for wave is the establishment of
the initial market. We are talking about only 30 to 50 megawatts,
and after that it will take care of itself.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. And, on
behalf of the Committee, may I thank you both very much indeed
for travelling considerable distances to be with us, for giving
up your time, for making submissions to us before we sat this
afternoon, and for helping us with our inquiry, which we hope
will assist you, in due course, when we produce our report. Thank
you very much indeed.