Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report


The Science and Technology Committee has agreed to the following Report:—



1. We announced an inquiry into Wave and Tidal Energy in January 2001, with the following terms of reference:

"To inquire into and examine wave and non-barrier tidal energy in the United Kingdom, with particular reference to the following issues:

  • Commercial viability. Will wave and tidal energy become commercially viable in the near future, and attractive to the private sector as a profitable investment?

  • Current projects. What projects are currently running in the UK and how successful have they been? Why did past projects fail?

  • Renewables strategy. What role should wave and tidal energy have in the Government's renewable energy strategy? Should they be a higher priority?

  • Research and development. What research and development is being undertaken at present? How much funding is available, and how easy is it for innovative ideas to gain support? Is national funding for R&D being well-coordinated? What sort of peer-review processes are undertaken?

  • Environmental aspects. What are the environmental implications of wave and tidal energy, particularly for marine life? How will such devices affect shipping?

2. There are distinct differences between the technologies of wave energy and tidal energy, which have been made clear in the evidence presented to us. In the long term there will be major differences in terms of the accessible resource and its infrastructure needs. However, we believe that, at their present stage of development, both technologies face a number of similar problems and opportunities, which can usefully be addressed in a single inquiry. We decided to exclude estuarine tidal barrages from our inquiry as this form of energy scheme raises extensive and complex environmental issues, which would have extended the length of the inquiry beyond our timetable.[9]

3. We conducted three oral evidence sessions in March 2001, with six sets of witnesses: representatives of the Scottish Energy and Environment Foundation (SEEF) and Greenpeace UK; Professor Stephen Salter, University of Edinburgh, and Mr Thomas Thorpe; Dr James Martin, Generation Director of Scottish and Southern Energy, and the Managing Directors of Marine Current Turbines Ltd., Ocean Power Delivery Ltd. and Wavegen; the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC); and Mr Peter Hain MP, Minister of State for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe, and officials from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR).[10]

4. We have received 43 written memoranda from a range of organisations and individuals, both in the UK and abroad.[11] The Committee also had the benefit of a brief informal session with the three companies who gave oral evidence (Marine Current Turbines Ltd., Ocean Power Delivery and Wavegen), hearing presentations on the technical characteristics of their devices. We would like to thank all those who provided written and oral evidence to the Committee.

5. We would also like to thank our three Specialist Advisers: Professor Ian Bryden, Head of the School of Mechanical and Offshore Engineering, the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen;[12] Professor John Chesshire, Honorary Professor, Science and Technology Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex; and Dr John Hassard, Reader in High Energy Physics, Imperial College, London.[13] Their advice and assistance throughout this inquiry have been invaluable.

Terms used in the Report

6. We begin by defining some terms used in the Report.


  • Tidal energy: Tides are caused by the interaction of the gravitational forces of the Sun, Earth and Moon. The most notable ways to extract electrical energy from them are:

In this Report, we use the term "tidal energy" to refer only to tidal stream energy.

  • Renewable energy: Energy which comes from a resource that either is not depleted by its use (such as in solar, wave or wind energy) or can be replenished at a rate comparable to the rate at which it is consumed (as in a properly managed biomass project).

  • Sustainable energy: Energy from sources which are not diminished, in any realistic timescale, and which is viable when fully costed over the very long term of centuries. 'Fully costed' includes all necessary waste treatment, environmental clean-up and extraction costs. In most situations, renewable energy and sustainable energy are interchangeable terms.

It should be noted that there is considerable debate at present about exactly which sources of energy can be included under the definition of 'renewable' and/or 'sustainable'. For example, it is argued that nuclear energy or energy created from the burning of waste is 'sustainable'.[15]


  • KiloWatt (kW): 1,000 watts; the power consumption of a one bar electric fire.

  • MegaWatt (MW): 1,000 kiloWatts.

  • GigaWatt (GW): 1,000 MegaWatts.

  • TeraWatt (TW): 1,000 GigaWatts, or a million MegaWatts.

  • KiloWatt hour (kWh): one KiloWatt supplied for one hour; this is the normal unit of electricity supply for domestic purposes. (The cost of electricity is measured in pence per KiloWatt hour (p/kWh).) 11,630 kWh is equivalent to 1 Tonne of Oil Equivalent (TOE), i.e. the energy produced from one tonne of oil.


7. Since privatisation in 1990-92, the structure of the UK electricity supply market has evolved considerably.

England and Wales

  • Transmission: The National Grid is the high voltage (400 KV and 275 KV) transmission system, through which bulk electricity is taken from the generators to the Regional Electricity Companies. The system is owned and managed by the National Grid Company plc (NGC) which was floated as an independent company in 1995. (See Figure 1.)

  • The New Electricity Trading Arrangement (NETA): On 27 March 2001 NETA replaced the 'Pool' as the means by which the RECs bought their electricity.[17]


Northern Ireland

Renewable energy support

  • The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem). Ofgem was created by the merger of the Office of Electricity Regulation (OFFER) and the Office of Gas Supply (OFGAS) in June 1999. Under the NFFO and SRO it has been responsible for assessing the renewable technology projects submitted by generators before contracts were awarded and advising the Secretary of State as to which ones should be supported. When the Renewables Obligation is introduced, Ofgem will be responsible for monitoring and enforcing the compliance of electricity suppliers with the details of the Order. (The Office for the Regulation of Electricity and Gas (OFREG) is responsible for supervising the NI-NFFO .)


8. Small tidal mills have been used in Britain and elsewhere since the Middle Ages.[19] The first wave energy device was patented over two hundred years ago in 1799.[20] Yet, the ability to harness the massive potential energy of the sea, on an industrial scale, has eluded the grasp of engineers and scientists until relatively recently.


9. The UK Government initiated the first dedicated wave energy programme in 1974, with considerable investment and hopes of it contributing significant amounts of energy to the country's electricity needs. It was largely inspired by the oil crisis, and the need to find alternative sources of secure energy.[21] Researchers were given an initial design target of a 2,000 MW wave power station and, unsurprisingly, they failed to meet the challenge.[22] The programme was radically scaled down in 1982, after an internal, and unpublished, government report predicted that wave energy would never deliver electricity at a competitive price.[23] The programme was finally abandoned in 1994.[24] The DTI now recognises that the decision to terminate the programme was clearly a mistake.[25]

10. A number of schemes proceeded in the 1980s and 1990s. Queen's University, Belfast, operated a small, near shore, pilot device on Islay, which generated 75 kW and operated for nearly ten years. In 1999 the then Minister for Energy, Mr John Battle MP, relaunched the Government's wave programme as part of the DTI's New and Renewable Energy Programme, though on a much more modest scale than in 1974. Perhaps more significantly for the development of wave power, three wave devices were chosen in 1999 as part of the third round of the Scottish Renewables Obligation to supply electricity to the Grid at an agreed price, for a period of approximately twenty-five years (see Table 1 below).

Table 1: Wave power projects chosen under the third round of the Scottish Renewables Obligation

Operational from
LIMPET 500, a 500 kW oscillating water column
Islay, Western Scotland
November 2000[26]
Ocean Power Delivery
Two 375 kW Pelamis ('Sea Snake') Wave Energy Convertors
off the West coast of Islay
Sea Power International
400 kW Floating Wave Power Vessel (FWPV)
off the Shetland Islands
October 2002

We have also received evidence about a number of other commercial schemes in the UK and around the world, as well as academic projects at the Universities of Edinburgh, Lancaster and Plymouth.[29]

8   Press notice no. 2 of Session 2000-01, 11th January, 2001. Back

9   For example, see: The Exploitation of Tidal Power in the Severn Estuary, Fourth Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, Session 1976-77, HC 564; Shaw T., Ecological Aspects of the Severn Barrage, 3rd Conference on Tidal Power, November 1989; Electricity from Renewables, Twelfth Report of the House of Lords Select Committee European Communities, Session 1998-99, HL Paper 78, paragraphs 152-53 and 280-87. Back

10   See: evidence, pp 1-85. Back

11   See: evidence, pp 86-175. Back

12   Professor Bryden holds an EPSRC funded project in the optimisation of tidal current farms; one CEC DGXII funded project in the matching of tidal current systems to local conditions; one Scottish Enterprise funded project into the feasibility of exploiting the tidal current resource in the Pentland Firth; and is supervising a PhD student investigating the environmental impact from tidal current developments. Back

13   Dr Hassard is Chief Executive Officer of a tidal energy company: RVco Ltd. Back

14   For example: evidence, pp 105-7. Back

15   For example see: The Renewables Obligation Preliminary Consultation: Analysis of the Responses to the Consultation Paper, DTI, March 2001, paragraphs 16-24. Back

16   The others are: East Midlands Electricity; London Electricity; MANWEB; Midlands Electricity; Northern Electric and Gas; Norweb; SEEBOARD; Southern Electric; SWEB; TXU Europe Group; and Yorkshire Electricity. Back

17   DTI Press Notice: New Electricity Market Goes Live, P/2001/198, 27th March 2001. See also: evidence, p 171, paragraph 5. Back

18   Martin, Q 122. Back

19   Evidence, p 95, paragraph 1. Back

20   The patent was filed on 12th July 1799 by a father and son named Girard in Paris. The device was apparently never built but "The idea was to build a gigantic lever, with its fulcrum on the shore and with a 'body', the ship of the line as the Girard inventors called it, floating on the sea. As the body rose and fell 'to a greater or lesser height according to the magnitude of the waves', the lever would work up and down and could be applied to pumps, buckets, wheels, etc." Energy from the Waves, David Ross, 2nd Edition, 1987, pp 1-2. Also see: . Back

21   See: Salter, Qq 52-54. Back

22   Evidence, pp 131-2. Back

23   Evidence, p 75, paragraph 2.1. Back

24   Ibid.  Back

25   Doddrell, Q 216. Back

26   Evidence, p 51, paragraphs 11 - 13. Back

27   Evidence, p 53. Back

28   Evidence, p 140. Back

29   Evidence, p 131. Also see: Edinburgh - ; Lancaster - ; and Plymouth - . Back

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