Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report


Research, development and demonstration

49. A number of bodies and schemes support research, development and deployment of wave and tidal energy.

  • EPSRC: the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is responsible for supporting basic, strategic and applied research in the engineering and physical sciences. It has a research programme aimed at promoting sustainable energy generation, with grants totalling £6 million for 2001/02. It mainly concentrates on relatively small, academic-led research.

      It currently supports eight wave energy and two tidal energy projects in the UK, with grants totalling £1.1. million.[104]
  • DTI: the Department of Trade and Industry, through its New and Renewable Energy Programme, supports industrially-led research and development. It generally supports larger-scale, proof-of-concept projects. The DTI's renewable energy budget is managed by ETSU (the Energy Technology Support Unit).[105]

      At present, the DTI provides funding to seven wave energy and one tidal energy project, with grants of £1.27 million over a number of years.[106] Figures for annual R&D funding from the DTI for wave and tidal energy is shown in Figure 2 below (with wind, fuel cells and solar shown for comparative purposes).
  • EU Framework Programme (FP): The Framework Programme supports research, technology development and demonstration (RTD) projects, across member countries of the European Union (EU). It reflects priorities selected on the basis of the needs of industry and improvements in the quality of life. Each Programme lasts four years, with FP5 currently being implemented and FP6 under development for the years 2002-06.

      The Fifth Framework Programme supports five British-led wave and tidal energy projects, with grants of approximately £1.5 million.[107]

Figure 2: Breakdown of DTI support for renewable technologies[108]

50. While there are a number of public bodies supporting research and development on wave and tidal energy, there does not appear to be a co-ordinated research and development strategy in place, enabling ideas to be taken from the drawing board to commercial deployment as smoothly and quickly as possible. The EPSRC and DTI generally support different stages of the R&D and technology deployment process and there appears to be little continuity between these stages. As the Open University observed, each body appears to be working to "different perspectives and time frames".[109] Professor Brook, Chief Executive of the EPSRC, told the Committee that "a national energy policy would be very helpful".[110] There needs to be a more 'joined up', strategic approach between funding agencies, with sensible progress bench- marking and milestones, to ensure that both technological and market deployment momentum are maintained.


51. The EPSRC is the principal provider of basic research funding for wave and tidal energy in the UK. At present, wave and tidal technology research receives only a small proportion (5%) of the funding available from the Council's sustainable energy programme.[111] We appreciate that this figure largely reflects the fact that fewer applications for funding were made by wave and tidal energy projects compared to other renewables (for example, photovoltaics). It is also true that to increase funding 'overnight' would risk funding lower quality research. However, experience shows that, to a large extent, researchers will follow the funding available and begin to engage in a particular area if they believe that there is long-term support available. Unless there is sufficient funding available in the first place, a "critical mass of researchers" will never be attracted to wave and tidal energy technology.[112] One way of allocating the money, may be a "managed programme" (where funding is allocated to a particular area and researchers invited to bid for it), which the EPSRC has previously run for fuel cells and photovoltaics. Dr Hedges, of the EPSRC, told us this has helped to create large "communities" of researchers in these technologies, which were reflected in the number of successful grant applications (photovoltaics - 71 awards; fuel cells - 51; wave and tidal - 10).[113] A similar managed programme for wave and tidal energy, with guaranteed amounts of research funding, steadily increasing over a number of years, could help to draw more researchers into the field, and to create the effective "community" needed to bring forward the technologies. The current level of public spending on wave and tidal energy research is insufficient to give the technology the impetus it needs to develop fully. Targeted research funding for wave and tidal energy technology should be steadily increased year on year to create a critical mass of researchers in the field. We recommend that the EPSRC introduce a managed programme for wave and tidal energy technology to achieve this.


(a) Prototypes

52. There seems to be a 'gap' in the research and development process for wave and tidal energy at the large-scale demonstrator model stage. Most of our witnesses have made the same point: that the true cost and viability of devices, their ability to compete, and whether or not they will survive at sea, will only be known once full-scale units are deployed at sea.[114] Understandably, most investors are unwilling to put money into such large-scale projects, until their commercial credibility has been established. There is a strong case for Government funding here, similar to that shown to other renewable technologies. We note that, over the next three years, the Government has allocated £89 million in capital grants for early demonstration, offshore wind and energy crop projects.[115] We recommend that the Government increase the amount of funding available for full-scale wave and tidal energy prototypes to prove the concept at a realistic scale. Testing on this scale is the only way in which companies can gain the extensive private backing they need if their devices are to achieve eventual full commercial realisation. The funding available should be comparable to that committed to demonstration models in other renewable technologies, such as wind. We recommend that a significant proportion of the extra £100 million of funding for renewables, recently announced by the Prime Minister, be made available for wave and tidal energy demonstration models.

(b) Offshore test centre

53. It has been suggested that there needs to be a National Offshore Wave and Tidal Test Centre to facilitate the development of these technologies. An offshore centre was recommended by the Energies from the Sea Task Force Report and has been very strongly supported by many witnesses.[116] Such a centre would provide companies, especially smaller ones, with the opportunity to engage in prototype or second stage demonstration testing, and, crucially, would allow the side-by-side testing and comparisons needed if choices are to be made between rival and complementary technologies. This would thereby speed the development cycle and allow less effective designs to be re-designed or abandoned more quickly. It would also allow a proper assessment of the true costs of the marine civil engineering involved in the installation and the Grid connection, and monitoring of the environmental impacts.[117] Venture capitalist and potential industrial partners would have a means of calculating return on investment with a reasonably rigorous and comprehensive analysis of the risks and benefits.

54. Wavegen and Ocean Power Delivery informed us that they would have to consider moving some of their research activities abroad, if a UK Centre were not built soon; and that, if the UK Government did not act proactively, an EU centre might be established in the Azores.[118] The Minister assured us that, while Government should "encourage British companies to find investment opportunities abroad and work abroad ... We do want to preserve and develop a solid British platform.".[119] Greenpeace estimated that such a site (excluding the cost of any wave or tidal energy devices) would cost approximately £10 million, but other witnesses suggested that it would probably cost considerably less.[120] We are pleased that the Minister has agreed to examine the case for such a Centre as a "priority".[121]

55. The precise configuration of the proposed national test facility has not been examined in this inquiry, but, from the evidence received, it would need: a good wave and / or tidal resource; pre-granted planning permission for devices to be placed in, on or by the sea; a large capacity connection to the Grid to allow real-scale testing; and sufficient computer facilities to allow effective, remote, monitoring of devices. Valuable lessons could be learnt from the existing Danish facility in Nissum Bredning Fjord in North Jutland. Consultation would be needed before a location was chosen, and separate sites for wave and tidal may be needed.[122] Caithness and Orkney have been suggested as suitable sites. We recommend that the Government establish, as soon as possible, a National Offshore Wave and Tidal Test Centre to facilitate the development of wave and tidal energy.

International comparisons

56. Most of the evidence we received stated that the UK still enjoys a small technical lead in the field of both wave and tidal energy.[123] A number of other countries are taking an interest in both energy sources, however, and we have received evidence about projects in Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Taiwan, and the USA.[124] Some of these countries have significant projects up and running: for example a 110 kW pilot tidal energy scheme has recently been deployed in the Straits of Messina, Italy; a 400 kW floating wave device has been tested off the coast of Ireland; and Blue Energy Canada are constructing a 30 MW 'tidal fence' off the Philippines.

57. Much of our evidence has drawn attention to the growing strength of the Danish wave and tidal energy industry.[125] During the 1990s, the Danish Government provided considerable, long-term support for the nation's wind turbine industry, and Danish firms now control 75% of a world market estimated to be worth $3.5 billion.[126] The Danish Government has now committed itself to a four year spending programme on wave energy.[127] However, it is not merely money that has made Denmark so successful in the field of renewable technologies. Mr Thomas Thorpe identified three key reasons why they had done so well in wind energy, which would apply to all renewable technologies.

      (i)  timescale: they anticipated a "long haul" and did not demand "outrageous performance targets" of the initial devices;

      (ii)  market: using highly focussed, long-term incentives for buyer and seller, they created a market for the energy; and

      (iii)  political commitment: they sent a clear signal to the market and turned "a hair-brained, novel technology into a mature source of energy".[128]

58. We welcome the Minister's commitment to sustaining the UK's lead in wave and tidal energy: "I want to see us as world leaders..we want to make sure we win the race.".[129] The UK is at the forefront of wave and tidal energy but other national development programmes will undoubtedly overtake ours unless the Government acts quickly and decisively to support the industry. Valuable lessons could be learned from the long-term approach adopted by the Danish Government toward the exploitation of renewables energy sources.

104   Brook, Qq 193-4; and evidence pp 67-68. Back

105   ETSU is part of AEA Technology - formerly the Atomic Energy Authority - and has specialised in consultancy on sustainable energy. See: .  Back

106   Evidence, p 77, paragraphs 8.1-8.4; and Hain, Q 219. Back

107   2.6 million euros. Hain, Q 219. Back

108   Official Report, 20th March 2001, column 180-182w. Back

109   Evidence, p 94, paragraph 5. Back

110   Brook, Q 201. Back

111   Evidence, p 66. Back

112   Hedges, Q 185. Back

113   Evidence, pp 68-9. Back

114   For example: evidence, p 97, paragraph 4; p 137, paragraph 17; and p 148. Also: Energies from the Sea, Marine Foresight Panel Report, pages 12 and 15.  Back

115   Official Report, 20 March 2001, column 180-182w. Back

116   See, for example: evidence, p 11, paragraph 7; p 145; p 148; Thorpe, Qq 70 and 92; and Thomson and Yemm, Q 144. Back

117   Evidence, p 118, paragraph 4.  Back

118   Yemm, Q 145-6. Back

119   Hain, Q 243. Back

120   Thomson and Yemm, Q 144. Back

121   Hain, Q 234-5. Back

122   Fraenkel, Q 143. Back

123   Hain, Q 226. Back

124   See: evidence, p 94; pp 121-2; p 160, paragraph 9.1; pp 174-5 and Thorpe Q 51. Back

125   For example: evidence p 9; and p 56. Back

126   Evidence p 10, paragraph 2.  Back

127 . Back

128   Thorpe, Q 91; and Salter Qq 75 - 78. Back

129   Hain, Q 230. Back

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