Memorandum submitted by Mr Ian Alexander
I attach a concept note which describes how
it might be possible to use wave energy generators to both produce
renewable electricity and reduce coastal erosion. As far as I
am aware the concept of deploying this technology in a dual purpose
role has not been seriously examined before. There are sufficient
uncertainties that it is difficult to be confident that it will
work. However the potential benefits are large and I urge the
committee to commit funds to an initial study to reduce the level
of uncertainty and scope the magnitude and potential cost effectiveness
of the benefits.
|1. Global warming/rising CO2 levels
|Major increase in energy from renewables.
|2. Rapid erosion of the English east coast
|Slowing the process so as to give communities more time to adapt in a way which is sensitive to the ecology.
There may be an opportunity to craft a complimentary solution
to these two challenges.
Global warming may be the most important environmental problem
we have to face in the coming decades. If, as the Government has
committed us to, we are to reduce our contribution to the problem
then we probably need to find a mechanism to make a quantum shift
away from fossil fuels to renewable energy power generation. There
are plenty of technologies competing to be part of the solution.
Some (on-shore wind, large scale hydro and tidal barrages) have,
from a landscape and/or biodiversity perspective, unacceptable
side effects. Others (biomass and photovoltaics) do not presently
have the technical capacity to make a big impact on the problem.
One of the few technically feasible renewables which the UK could
deploy to make a major impact is wave power generation. Previous
UK attempts to demonstrate the feasibility of wave power have
concentrated on the energy dense, and technically more challenging,
environments of the north and west coast of Scotland.
Much of the east coast of England is eroding rapidly. This
is a major problem for both the conservation movement, as important
habitats are squeezed between rising sea levels and coastal defences,
and the human communities as settlements are increasingly threatened
by flooding or inundation. It is a corner stone of conservation
thinking that you can not (and should not attempt to) stop these
processes with "hard" defences but we probably do need
a mechanism to "buy time" so that both human and wildlife
communities have more chance to adapt to the changes. The most
serious erosion events tend to happen during storms when high
energy waves impact on the coast.
By placing wave energy generators off the east coast it will
be possible to reduce the amount of erosion causing wave energy
which actually reaches vulnerable coastal locations. Redeployment
of the money presently spent by government on hard coastal defences
to this technology will help to overcome the R&D cost barrier
which is presently preventing industry from more aggressively
pursuing wave power generation. The east coast should be a less
technically challenging environment in which to prove the technology.
There are two reasons why this method might prove unattractive.
What is proposed will interfere with "natural
coastal processes" (the favoured approach of the conservation
community). This is a largely philosophical point. Politicians
are unlikely to stand by as whole communities are threatened by
coastal erosion. Looked at politically, "natural processes"
might not be very attractive; actively managing the change (managing
the retreat) so that it takes place over a longer time scale should
be more acceptable.
While the technique proposed will reduce the amount
of energy impacting on the coast and the amount of erosion which
results from this we will need to be careful that other factors
such as sediment drift caused by currents do not compensate. This
will require careful modelling of the systems.
In any event the sort of modelling which will need to be
developed to answer these questions will not be wasted. Almost
any coast where this technology will be deployed will have significant
wildlife interest. A mayor modification of the wave energy environment
is certain to require an appropriate assessment of the impact
on any internationally important wildlife sites under the Habitats
Regulations before deployment.
If, on further investigation, the idea seems feasible there
are three further advantages which might accrue from using this
1. We have a major conservation problem with over-fishing
in the North Sea. One of the contributory factors to this is that
there are virtually no no-fishing zones. Additionally, modern
forms of trawling and dredging (for shellfish) cause repeated
damage to the sea floor, effectively preventing the establishment
of any bottom vegetation and physical community structure. Deployment
of this technology, in any of its currently available forms, would
mean that fishing in the immediate vicinity of the generators
would have to stop. We would get an undisturbed no take zone by
2. There is a growing interest by electricity generation
and distribution companies in renewable technologies, reflecting
an increasing concern and awareness among consumers. We have an
opportunity here to work with the grain of "green consumerism"
to accelerate a change which is already happening.
3. The Government has repeatedly said that it wishes to
invest public money in infrastructure rather than spend it on
revenue commitments. This technology will require both marine
heavy engineering and high technology skills with the potential
for both significant job creation in regions affected by the difficulties
presently faced by manufacturing industry and to generate future
export earnings for the UK as other countries start to look for
new forms of renewable energy generation.
19 January 2001