Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220 - 239)



  220. Is your support strategy based on any sort of long-term aim of a specific market share for wave and tidal energy, or is it randomly based? What is your view of the potential contribution towards our energy economy that wave and tidal can make?
  (Mr Hain) It is neither randomly based, nor does it have a target because the technology at the present time is far too limited to make an assessment yet of the potential. As the Committee may be aware, there is an important project based at Islay, which you may know about already. It is a 200 kilowatt limpid 500 project, and if I can find the detail of it I will go into it.


  221. Minister, if I may say, we have had papers on it and we were, in fact, last week due to visit it but, for various reasons, we had to postpone our visit. To save time, we are very familiar with that project.
  (Mr Hain) There is also the swimming snake device which has completed its laboratory testing, and for Pelamis there are plans for sea trials of a model later this year, which will take place off the vale of Ireland. You are familiar with that as well?

  Chairman: Yes, we have had a briefing on that.

Dr Turner

  222. Can I ask, Minister, does your 10 per cent renewables target include waste or other carbon sources?
  (Mr Hain) It does.

  223. If so, do you not think this is a sort of counter-incentive to try to bring on the development of totally clean sources like wave and tide?
  (Mr Hain) No, I do not. I am as enthusiastic a ministerial advocate as you are likely to find of clean energy and green energy renewables—possibly (without commenting in any adverse way) more enthusiastic than any of my predecessors. However, I do not think we can afford to avoid taking advantage of the capacity for generation from waste. After all, what else do you do with it? Just fill up the ground and produce, in time, a lot of environmentally contaminated problems as a result and a leakage of methane gas completely wasted. Others may say this is beyond the terms of reference of this investigation, but I have had quite a lot of briefing and seen some of the companies that are developing various uses of waste once all the maximum amount of recycling has taken place, which has the potential for producing—and can actually in present conditions produce—very clean gas with either no emissions or limited emissions. So I do not think we can simply ignore that potential, but neither—picking up your point—must we see it as an alternative or a block on really pushing forward wave energy and tidal stream energy, photovoltaics (which I do not think we have done enough of yet but we are now picking up that baton very energetically) or other renewable sources, genuinely renewable, clean and green sources.

  224. I am very glad, Minister, to hear that commitment. Having said that, do you think that total spend of £2.37 million over a number of years from the DTI and EPSRC together on wave and tidal research represents a really serious commitment to the technology and is sufficient to give us the lead in this field, bearing in mind the single-minded way in which the Danish government have supported wind energy and the fruits that has borne for them? Do you think we are really putting our money where our mouths are sufficiently?
  (Mr Hain) I think we have made a very important start, but I would like to see that contribution as a beginning. The signal I want to give out to the inventors, businesses and researchers involved in this whole area is that you have a friend in court in the DTI and any new bids for research and development assistance for technological support for capital projects will be looked at very sympathetically. This budget is now a very considerable one, as I say, amounting to £250 million across the board. I just want to encourage people to make progress and they will—obviously, on a properly costed and assessed basis—get our backing. Certainly one of the reasons I am very encouraged by your Inquiry is that I look forward to reading your recommendations and receiving them, and if you feel minded to give an extra impetus to this whole agenda that will be something I will welcome.

  225. Coming back to the Prime Minister's £100 million for renewable energy, how much of that do you think will be directed to wave and tidal energy? Will you be prepared to put forward a strong case for wave and tide?
  (Mr Hain) Yes, I will. Of course, the Performance and Innovation Unit is looking at this matter at the present time, and when the Prime Minister made his announcement he put it in the context of awaiting its recommendations later in the year—sooner rather than later, I hope. Yes, subject to that, I think that there is enormous potential here for wave and tidal stream.

Dr Jones

  226. In your memorandum you stated that the UK is one of the leaders in the field of wave energy. On what sort of international comparison do you base this statement?
  (Mr Hain) There are only a few devices internationally at a demonstration stage. We have got programmes, of which you may be aware, in China, Denmark, India, Japan and Sri Lanka, with commercial devices being built or having been built in Australia, Ireland, the Netherlands and the USA. That is in wave energy. In tidal stream we have got only two government-written programmes resulting in small test devices in China and Japan. There are no plans for these to be developed further but there is some company-led research going on in Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand. There is one 130 kilowatt project in Italy. So I think compared with that, the fact that we are supporting seven wave energy projects and one tidal stream project, with our geographical advantage and this new government backed commitment, I think puts us in that position.

  227. You have mentioned a number of countries. Who do you see as the major players in the field and how do we compare to them?
  (Mr Hain) I think it is a bit early to say. What I will do, if that helps, is offer to write to you more fully on this matter.


  228. Thank you.
  (Mr Hain) The Scandinavians have always got a good track record in this, as was mentioned earlier. I hope that we can really build on what is a world lead at the moment and make sure we extend it.

Dr Jones

  229. Do you think we will be in a position where we will not get overtaken by countries like Denmark as we did on wind power?
  (Mr Hain) That rather depends on government policy in future years and who is driving it. No doubt your recommendations will act as a spur, if that is the way we go.


  230. Putting it as a wish rather than a prediction, would you wish us to be leaders in wave and tidal energy?
  (Mr Hain) Unquestionably. I want to see us as world leaders. We have that potential. We are in pole position at the present time and we want to make sure we win the race.

Dr Jones

  231. I understand that the DTI is a founder member of the International Energy Agency which is being led by Portugal at the moment. How did that involvement come about and what scope do you see for future collaboration in the development of this source of renewable energy?
  (Mr Doddrell) We are closely involved with the IEA in a range of activities on renewables, but we do not have any plans for any new, specific initiatives with the IEA in wave and tidal stream at the moment.

  232. So there are no collaborative programmes on the horizon?
  (Mr Doddrell) No new initiatives. It is still a very infant industry. In a sense, one collaborates with other countries when we feel we can benefit from what they have developed. At the moment, we are at the leading edge and we want to build up our own domestic industry and make sure we maintain a competitive advantage as these things come through into the market place.
  (Mr Hain) Of course, there is, in addition, the prospect of a European Union agenda here and an obligation being considered. That places us, I think, in a position where precisely this sort of initiative would become easier.

Dr Kumar

  233. Minister, you said you are a trail blazer for renewable sources. How refreshing to hear that. What leads you to believe that you have the right strategy in place for effective, co-ordinated funding to take wave and tidal energy from the basic drawing board to commercial exploitation? You mentioned earlier there are many other organisations—EPSRC, the European Union, DTI and private funding—but what leads you to believe that the blocks you put in place are going to deliver the results?
  (Mr Hain) They are very much foundation blocks, I do not deny that, but I think they are early signs of a commitment to build above and build as fast as we can. The funding that is now in place is relatively new, so I think it sends a signal out to everybody that we do mean business in this area. We have a lot more to do, I do not really dispute that at all.

  234. Minister, some of the companies who have given evidence to this Committee have said to us that they have done the academic research and laboratory testing and now they need real testing of data in real situations to prove that the devices they have are actually going to work and gain commercial backing. Will you make this one of your priorities?
  (Mr Hain) Yes.

Dr Jones

  235. Well, what are you going to do about it?
  (Mr Hain) Make it one of my priorities.

Mr McWalter

  236. Do you not think that could be very expensive and you could end up with a sort of Millennium Dome in the middle of the sea?
  (Mr Hain) I think that is an important point. I am not conceding that comparison, it would be a very unfortunate image to attach to it.

  237. An upside down Dome.
  (Mr Hain) An upside down windmill.

Dr Jones

  238. I think the figures are not in that league, actually, fortunately.
  (Mr Hain) Before we get totally diverted, Chairman, I think that the potential is quite large but the research and development is still at an early stage. When the priority is to work with the industries—which we are doing—to develop a strategy in consultation to support research and development, and where projects are being taken forward either at the testing level or at a practical level as in Islay, then our money will go in.

  239. Many of our witnesses have mentioned that the UK needs an offshore wave energy test site facility similar to that which has been set up by the Danish government. When you were talking about priorities earlier, would this be, perhaps, a priority that could be brought forward as part of your priorities for this sector?
  (Mr Hain) We will certainly have a look at that.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 8 May 2001