Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH 2001
140. We have not put any numbers on the money,
do you feel there is a critical mass of R&D input that is
needed in this sector of activity to develop and sustain a thriving
UK marine energy supply industry?
(Dr Yemm) I think what it needs to be is a carefully
monitored process. In my belief, ETSUand I would like this
to be notedare doing a very good job of managing the budget
they have, and I think they ought to be openly commended for that.
I think they are capable if they are given appropriate budgetsand
we are talking enough money to stimulate enough demonstrations
to keep development going at the pace required to commercialise
within a reasonable time frame, ie fully commercialised by 2010
so that major installation can begin. We are talking initially
of sums of millions of pounds, moving in the middle of the decade
to tens of millions, by the end of the decade if commercialising
in this country very large sums. Obviously the faster it is pushed,
the faster it is likely to be delivered, but there are certainly
impassable obstacles such as long-term reliability which need
to be addressed, but these can be addressed in parallel with moving
to the next stage, as was very, very ably demonstrated, and still
is, by the wind sector.
141. I think Dr Turner was asking you to put
a figure to the amount of money you thought ought to be made available.
(Mr Thomson) The companies sitting here are lookingand
do correct meat roughly about £1 million each to get
projects off the ground. So less than £5 million.
(Mr Fraenkel) I think it is worth adding there is
a kind of minimum critical mass to do an offshore project which
is of the order of £1 million to £2 million, but fortunately
most of these technologies are actually not that expensive, which
is one of the reasons we do believe they have long-term potential,
compared with most energy technologies. They are modular, they
cannot be built on a tiny scale but they can be built on a relatively
small scale to start with.
142. So if Tony is serious, then £55 million
could get you guys moving?
(Mr Fraenkel) Absolutely.
143. This Committee has been very concerned
that the UK is not ahead of the race in the development of wind
power, in fact we are importing technology mainly from Denmark
and possibly other countries. With that in mind, we are concerned
we get ahead of the race in the development of wave and tidal
power, and we are aware that the Danish Government have a national
wave and tidal testing facility at Nissum Bredning Fjord in North
Jutland. When we took evidence from Greenpeace they suggested
to match that Britain really ought to be doing something similar,
for example in the Orkney Islands. Do you think we should establish
a national wave and tidal test facility, if not in Orkney somewhere
else, similar to the one in Denmark? Would that be an advantage
to the development of wave and tide?
(Mr Thomson) The biggest cost is actually the cable
back to the grid and also drilling things to the sea bed, so to
have a facility where researchers can go and take their readings,
have access to grid for monitoring, would be very helpful, I think.
(Dr Yemm) Something which happened at the start of
wind energy which must not happen here is that you got people
developing machines which they then claimed the earth for, people
invested in them, they did not deliver and it soured the whole
industry. That is what happened at the start of wind energy. I
am personally virtually the chief proponent in the industry of
side-by-side testing and, at the very least, setting up standardised
test procedures, using standardised equipment and methodologies.
I think this is something which should be looked at within the
ETSU programme as well. I personally think the establishment of
a test site would be a tremendous initial boost to offshore wave
energy in the UK and I fully support that.
(Mr Fraenkel) There is a slightly different situation
with tidal currents in that I believe the Danes are only interested
in wave energy, they do not have much in the way of tidal current
resources actually. I endorse the idea of a test centre but unfortunately
the physical conditions which suit tidal currents do not necessarily
coincide with those which suit wave energy. So I am not sure one
could have a single location which would suit both purposes, although
one might find two sites which were reasonably close together.
144. Of course, it is more than a test facility
in Denmark, it is a national showcase where anyone interested
in wind energy can go. It is more than just research, it is almost
an exporting device as well. Greenpeace gave us a figure of £10
million, do you think that is a reasonable cost of establishing
such a facility?
(Mr Thomson) That sounds quite high to me.
(Dr Yemm) It sounds high to me. I think the likely
major cost in it is the upgrade of the grid. We have looked at
various issues there. The nice thing about spending money on grid
upgrade is that it is rarely wasted because it is infrastructure.
If individual projects fail, the infrastructure is still there.
It is not like spending money on steel. The grid would be a major
cost centre. I have looked into it with a moderate amount of detail,
and I think that is a high figure. What is required is steady
support for it as it grows. If it takes off, if it is a major
going concern, if it appears to be delivering what it was designed
to do, then it should have an expanding remit. Initially, I would
not have thought it would take anything like £10 million
to get the concept off the ground.
145. Are British companies co-operating enough
in this area already? If so, perhaps they could co-operate on
a test facility, or is commercial confidentiality a big barrier
to co-operation in such a test facility in the UK?
(Dr Yemm) I do not see a problem with that at all.
We have a lot of common problems in the wave industry and tidal
sector, it is not in our interests to each spend half a million
pounds on consents, it is not in each of our interests to spend
£2 million on grid connection upgrade, or whatever the figure
is. I think we have reached consensus through another organisation,
the Scottish Wave Commission, which is also speaking to other
overseas teams who are keen to bring equipment here. One of our
chief competitors in Hollandand they only have ripples,
they do not have waves at all in Hollandis clearly looking
to establish an industry in another country. They are establishing
their prototype in Portugal and have invited us to put our prototype
there as well. So if I can add something to this debate, it is
something which needs to happen quickly or there will be almost
certainly a declaration of a European test site in Portugal, and
the opportunity for this here will be lost.
146. That was my next question, because we had
heard from Greenpeace that your company, Dr Yemm, and Wavegen
were actually considering pulling out of testing in the UK and
removing yourselves to Portugal if there was not a catalyst to
facilitate a testing centre being set up. Is that a real possibility?
(Dr Yemm) That sounds very draconian. I believe firmly
and have always believed that wave energy is a tremendous UK opportunity
because of the mix of skill base, the technology base and the
resource. If, however, there are not clear signs to usand
by clear signs I mean an element of market pull, an element of
technology banding, an element of specific support for the specific
needs of wave energybut those are offered elsewhere, you
would have to have very strong reasons to stay in one place. I
think we can operate from here and test elsewhere, but we have
to go where the support is.
(Mr Thomson) We are unlikely to move out of the UK
but if there were facilities available in Portugal for testing,
we would take advantage of them.
147. So you would like us to encourage the British
Government to facilitate the setting up of a test facility in
this country, and that would encourage you to stay. Are there
any other barriers, like planning, going through dozens of planning
consents? What other barriers, apart from the absence of a test
facility, would discourage you from staying in the UK?
(Mr Fraenkel) We have actually got a plan which has
been fairly well looked into and we have done site work and all
the rest, to install a 300 kW prototype off Lynmouth in Devon.
It is quite a complicated location because the coastline there
is a national park and it is also a Site of Special Scientific
Interest, so we just about picked one of the most complicated
places to try and do something. We have agreement in principle
from all the regulatory authorities involved, we have had on-site
discussions and we have done site surveys. It is quite a major
task. For example, we are being expected by the DETR to do a fairly
extensive environmental impact study which is going to cost us
£30 to £40,000, which is quite a lot of money for a
small company. We are partly the victim of being a pioneer. It
is always a problem if you are the first one because you are under
much more suspicion than anybody else. We are getting a lot of
sympathy from the locals and we are aiming, assuming we can go
ahead on schedule, to have public meetings to make sure there
are not the kind of worries or misunderstandings which have occurred
in relation to wind energy. So it is worth making the point that
the initial hurdles are tricky and heavy and they happen at a
time when you are least able to cope with them, and more Government
support would be extremely useful for that. In our proposal with
the DETR at the moment we do raise this and we hope they might
help us to overcome these problems.
148. You said the locals are very sympathetic,
what do you mean by that?
(Mr Fraenkel) We have had media coveragein
fact involuntary because our policy is to keep a low profile until
we have something to saywhich has generally been pretty
good and the response we have had, in the way of e-mails and letters
from the public, invitations to give lectures and this kind of
thing, has been: "This is very interesting, come and talk
149. Is that because the public are enthusiastic
about renewable energy?
(Mr Fraenkel) I think they like renewable energy if
it does not seem to have any downside to it, and we have at the
moment an image that we have something which has only a limited
downside in terms of environmental impact or visual impact but
which can supply clean energy, and I think that has got across.
150. Mr Thomson, you said the biggest cost is
the cable back to the grid, could you elaborate a little about
your transmission problems from the generator at Islay?
(Mr Thomson) We are on the land, so it is much easier
for us; we do not have the same difficulty that offshore devices
have. Remote grids tend to be weak and therefore one has to stiffen
the grid, which is to say put heavier conductors in and other
transformers or whatever to take the capacity. Also at the end
of a grid we tend to have to put power electronics in to make
sure the power quality in the grid is not affected; it is improved
151. Dr Yemm, you said that investment in the
grid infrastructure would pay off irrespective of what happened
to the generators. I did not quite understand that, because if
you have not got anything generating the power, why would it be
worthwhile investing in grid infrastructure?
(Dr Yemm) I was talking in that context specifically
about test sites. Say, for example, you received a certain percentage
capital grant for the machine and it foundered, that would be
money down the drain. If you received support for infrastructure,
it remains there for other people to use. In general, as we have
heard earlier, a lot of resources are at the end of the distribution
system. If wave does not take up capacity, I am sure wind will,
so it is a general infrastructure.
152. If the grid needs upgrading who should
(Mr Thomson) If one looks at the previous history
in Scotland with hydro-electric or indeed Dounreay, both were
seen as being strategically important for the country. The grid
for Dounreay has 300 MW installed capacity, it can take 600 if
both sides of the pylons are strong. Hydro was also fully funded.
This was all Government funding. It is debateable but if it is
a national asset, it is extremely important the Government should
assist. If one takes the view that the technology is unlikely
to be taken up in the UK, and in our business models we assume
very limited UK uptake, the bulk of the market is the export market
overseas, it is still worthwhile putting in limited grid stiffening
to a test site to improve the technology for export.
153. Do other people agree?
(Mr Fraenkel) The grid is being continuously replaced
anyway, it has a finite life and will need replacement regardless
of what kind of technologies are brought in. It is partly a matter
of long-term planning. You might replace it in a different manner
or improve bits in one place rather than have to do it somewhere
else. The same applies to the generating plant, apart from the
need to have clean energy generation in the future there is a
need for new energy generation in the future because most of the
coal-fired plant is getting near the end of its useful life, as
are most of the Magnox nuclear reactors. So come what may, decisions
will have to be taken just to replace the infrastructure as well
as on the generating plants in the future. All I am really trying
to say is, given good strategic planning and given options available
to replace plant with clean plant, such as we are developing,
one might look at it as the money being spent somewhere else rather
than new money being spent in many respects.
154. Is the production of hydrogen a viable
solution to the transmission problems?
(Mr Fraenkel) It is very long-term, I think. It is
not immediately economic, it is almost for the second half of
the century rather than the first half. That is my own view.
(Dr Yemm) Apparently Iceland are going to be doing
a test case for that, so we will watch with interest. Can I just
add to the grid point? Given the kind of changes proposed by James
Martin, given some local reinforcement, given some change of old
components and cost sharing based on the life of the project with
the grid operator, given some precedents which I believe have
just been set for some different kinds of connection agreements,
you can constrain off in the event of fault conditions. Basically
a lot of the cost is usually associated with some very rare fault
conditions, if you can agree a connection policy where you can
constrain off on that which is consistent with safety and consistent
with operating other aspects of the network, then I do not think
there is an immediate bottleneck in the North West and, specifically,
the North, which is going to hold us up for the next several years.
155. I did not understand what you said. "Constrain"?
(Dr Yemm) Sorry, it is a technical term. If there
is a fault condition, you agree not to generate, so you do not
have power going into an island, into the grid, which could cause
safety problems and so on. It is a technical thing but it is something
which is being considered, and I believe there has just been a
precedent for it in England.
156. Can I briefly ask questions similar to
the ones we put to Dr Martin? By its very nature renewable electricity
generation is dependent upon tide and wave and wind, if we are
looking at that, and you are supplying electricity to consumers
who want a consistent and reliable supply. What difficultiesand
Dr Martin, remember, said we have to rely upon gas generators
and gas turbines to make sure we do have a constant supplywhat
problems does this lack of regularity, lack of consistency of
supply, give to each one of you with the machines you are developing?
(Mr Fraenkel) Tidal currents are predictable, obviously,
because the tides are predictable over an almost infinite period
into the future.
157. Predictable but not necessarily consistent.
(Mr Fraenkel) Yes, I was coming to that. So we know
when the power will be available and equally when it will not
be available. So far as the diurnal tides are concerned, they
are out of phase round the country so if you have a number of
projects which are strategically distributed around, some will
be generating at times when others are not. While that is not
good in the sense they are all working at full power, you can
have a situation where one is working at full power when the other
one might not be. The big problem is the neap period, when unfortunately
the sun and the moon fight against each other and the tides are
not as strong, and you have to accept energy availability is reduced.
One of the selling points of tidal stream, and just to give an
example, is a niche market for small grids on islands where it
lends itself to running in conjunction with diesel, simply because
the best way to save money with diesel plant is to switch it off,
and if you have at least a predictable renewable to match with
diesel, you know exactly when you can switch the diesel off and
when you can switch it on again. With a randomly available one
such as wind, you have to have what is called spinning reserve
in order to fill in if there is a lull in the wind. What I am
saying is, you cannot solve the entire energy problem with tidal
currents but in many ways you can match the tidal energy supply
rather better to other power sources than most renewables; wave
energy being actually not far off us as well, due to the predictability
of wave energy.
158. Mr Thomson, could you add very briefly
your own comments please?
(Mr Thomson) Same background. If you look at Denmark,
they will have 50 per cent renewables in their system and they
are going to do this with some of the new technologies coming
on-stream from people like ABB, who are developing essentially
network solutions whereby one can switch on/switch off renewable
power supplies depending on the demand and the supply. If one
looks at conventional generation plant, if you have a nuclear
plant which goes wrong, as they do, they can go on for months
losing gigawatts of power.
(Dr Yemm) I think this is a problem for the future.
The UK is not at a point where it has become a serious issue because
of the volume of renewables in the network. We are miles below
base load and it will not be a problem for the foreseeable future,
in my view.
159. Before I go back to Dr Turner, let us go
into the future. You heard us ask Dr Martin what proportion of
the UK's electricity might be generated from renewables in, say,
2020. Would you like to make an educated, experienced guess?
(Dr Yemm) I first would like to say that I disagree
categorically with James Martin's assessment that it is not important
to take a lead in the generation of renewable energy in this country.
It is up to us. If you like, being idealistic about it, we started
the problem; it is up to us to take a lead and do our part. It
is a worldwide problem and it needs to be addressed on a worldwide
scale. In terms of realistic targets, that does come down, I think,
ultimately to grid capacity and how that hurdle is addressed.
I think the 10 per cent target is achievable but it will be difficult
by 2010. I would like to see further targets and perhaps for regions,
like Scotland, higher aspirational targets if not obligatory targets.