Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report


Renewables strategy


59. The Government has committed itself to a number of environmental targets, aimed at lowering levels of pollution and mitigating the potential effects of climate change. Most significantly, these include commitments to reducing the UK's carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by 2010 (from 1990 levels), and to the UK generating 10% of all its electricity from renewable sources by 2010.[130] The requirement on electricity suppliers to provide 10% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2010, subject to acceptable costs, has clearly done much to stimulate the development of renewable technologies. The Government should be careful, however, that it does not become 'blinkered' or 'obsessed' with the 2010 target, to the exclusion of longer-term targets and needs.

60. In terms of development of new technologies (as opposed to the market deployment of existing technologies), the 2010 timescale is a short one. During our inquiry into Scientific Advice on Climate Change, the Environment Minister spoke of the need for Government to consider 60, 70 or even 90 % reductions in carbon dioxide emissions if global warming were to be tackled effectively.[131] Similarly, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's Report recommended that the Government should adopt a strategy of "reducing carbon dioxide emissions by some 60% from current levels by about 2050.".[132] If these targets are to be met energy-saving measures will need to be introduced and all available renewable energy technologies will need to be exploited (wave, tidal, solar, biomass, photovoltaic, etc.), many of which require considerable research and development before they could fulfil their longer-term potential. It is particularly important that genuinely renewable energy sources, such as wave and tidal energy, are exploited, rather than reliance placed upon renewable but carbon-producing sources, such as energy waste.

61. Longer-term targets would also send a clear signal to electricity generators, venture capitalist and other investors that renewable energy is envisaged to play a significant role in the UK's overall energy mix; and that its market share will increase steadily over time. The Government's 2010 target for renewable energy is a very welcome step in the right direction. However, challenging longer-term targets for 2020 and 2050 should be set to facilitate planning of research and to stimulate the development of genuine renewable energy sources, such as wave and tidal energy.

62. On a global basis, world energy demands are continuing to rise sharply. In the years 1986 to 1996, total global energy consumption increased by 15%, and, apart from the former Soviet Union, every region increased its usage (see Table 2 for details). It is likely that there will be an increased demand for electricity as countries develop (see Table 3). Should developing countries with large populations, such as China, begin to use as much energy as the developed world, then the increase in demand would be unsustainable. If these increased demands were met by traditional, fossil-fuel generation methods, then the effect on the world's climate would be catastrophic. Dr Martin suggested that the UK's "primary contribution to the global issue should be its brains", not its domestic carbon dioxide targets.[133] He argued that such targets would have little impact on global pollution or climate change, but that the UK, with its advanced science base, could develop a viable renewable technology, which could have a major global impact. We believe it very important that the UK Government meets its domestic targets for carbon dioxide emission reduction and renewable energy production as an example to other countries. However, the greatest global contribution that the UK can make is through the development of viable, new renewable technologies, such as wave and tidal energy. The development of renewable energy alternatives is crucial and one in which the UK has both the ability and duty to take a leading role.

Table 2: Increase in energy consumption (1986-96)[134]

Region / country
Increase in energy consumption, 1986-1996
European Union
United States of America
People's Republic of China

Table 3: Electricity consumption and development (1998)[135]

Consumption of electricity per capita


63. For many years, the DTI has stated its belief that wave and tidal energy technologies are ten years away from viability, which led to what one witness described as a negative "self-fulfilling prophecy":[136] no one would invest in wave and tidal energy because it was not seen as likely to produce a return on investment in the near future.[137] We are pleased to note that many of our witnesses feel that there has been a noticeable change in the Government's attitude, with the DTI becoming increasingly positive about the prospects for wave and tidal energy. This was confirmed by the extremely optimistic comments made by the Minister for Energy during his oral evidence session.[138] We welcome the Minister's acknowledgment that renewable energy would not "get off the ground in the way it needs to be without massive support".[139]

64. We urge the Government to continue - and to develop - a more positive approach to wave and tidal energy and make a commitment to the creation of a credible wave and tidal energy industry in the UK, backed with sufficient funds to demonstrate its determination. Additional support for R&D is required, as argued earlier. But the pressing need now is for more substantial development support. We are confident that were such unequivocal statements to be made, wave and tidal energy companies would find it much easier to attract funding from private investors who could see a really long-term future for the companies. As one witness observed, "the country that demonstrates commitment at this stage is most likely to be the country that wins the prize of a future major industry.".[140] If the Government is serious about developing a UK wave and tidal energy industry, it must make a clear commitment via policy statements and funding. Such a commitment would reduce the perception of risk surrounding the technology and help to attract private investment.


65. Our Report outlines the enormous potential advantages of wave and tidal technology as sources of energy: they use predictable, natural resources, which the UK enjoys in abundance; they are both far cleaner than nearly any other energy source currently available and with less negative environmental impact; and they are largely based upon tried and tested engineering and technology, in which the UK has an excellent skills base. We have recommended significant increases to public support for wave and tidal energy, to allow the technologies to develop fully. In comparison with other areas of Government expenditure these are very small amounts. Yet, the potential return on investment would be huge. The UK could finally harness some of the massive potential energy of its marine resource to supply part of its energy needs, and create a new multi-billion pound domestic and export industry, employing thousands of people. The UK has the resource, the technology and the skills base; we have a unique opportunity to seize the lead and develop a world-class industry. The urgent need to cut carbon emissions to counter global climate change and environmental problems now means that we must explore the potential of all significant sources of renewable energy. We can no longer afford to neglect the potential of wave and tidal energy.

The UK's target under the Kyoto Protocol is to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 12.5% below 1990 levels by 2008-12; the Government's supplemental, domestic goal is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2010. Climate Change - The UK Energy Programme, DETR, Cm 4913, November 2000, pp 5 and 8. Back

131   Scientific Advisory System: Scientific Advice on Climate Change, 3rd Report, 2000-01, paragraph 29. Back

132   Energy - The Changing Climate, Twenty-second Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Cm 4749, page 82, paragraph 10.10. Back

133   Martin, Q 118. Back

134   International Energy Agency. See: . Back

135   IbidBack

136   Evidence, p 10, paragraph 2. Back

137   Evidence, p 160, paragraph 7.1. Back

138   Hain, Qq 218, 223, 224 and 233. Back

139   Hain, Q 249. Back

140   Evidence, p 148. Back

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