Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists


  1.  The Institute of Professionals, Managers and Specialists (IPMS) is a trade union representing 75,000 specialist, professional and technical staff in the Civil Service, research councils, other public bodies and an increasing number of private sector companies. IPMS members are directly involved in a range of sectors and functions for which environmental issues are of significant professional concern. Within the Civil Service, IPMS has a wide and diverse membership across policy, research and executive functions in the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) and the bodies linked to it. We also have a wide-ranging membership in research councils and conservation bodies, including English Nature and the Countryside Commission, the Countryside Council for Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage. On the energy side, we mainly represent scientists, engineers and other specialist professional staff in the nuclear industry. Our members are engaged in operational management, research and development and the establishment and monitoring of safety standards, environmentally and in the workplace.

  2.  IPMS has taken a leading role on energy and environment issues within the Trades Union Congress (TUC). As long ago as 1989, IPMS supported a resolution which led to the establishment of the TUC's Environment Action Group. In 1997, Congress adopted an IPMS resolution that called for targets on CO2 emissions to be met by means of a balanced energy policy, giving greater emphasis to renewable energy sources. IPMS is currently actively involved in the work of the Trade Union Sustainable Development Advisory Committee (TUSDAC); a committee jointly chaired by the Environment Minister and John Edmonds on behalf of the TUC which works in parallel to the Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment.

  3.  We would emphasise that science plays a crucial role in both helping to understand the damage caused to the environment by human activities and in identifying the necessary action. Science and technology also have a major role to play in developing cleaner technologies. However, we focus in this submission on the issues specifically identified in the terms of reference for this inquiry.


  4.  There is real potential for electricity generation from tidal barrages and wave energy, as investigations have already shown. For example, an assessment funded by the EC's Joule programme suggested that there was a theoretical resource around the British Isles of up to 60TWh/year. A re-evaluation published in ETSU R-122 in March 1999 suggested a potential of 36TWh/year from six potential sites. Another study of wave energy potential in Ireland, sponsored by the universities of Cork and Limerick, estimated total Irish wave energy resource as being of the order of 42 TWh. However, barrages are very expensive. Harnessing coastal wave power may be a more promising route through as shown by the sinking of the Osprey off the north of Scotland; the technology is demanding and equipment will need to be very robust. An additional consideration is the level of risk associated with installation and maintenance work at sea.


  5.  IPMS supports development of a balanced energy policy on a level playing field. All energy processes should be held accountable for their environmental and socio-economic impact. However, it is clear that if renewables are to make a commercial contribution to the fuel balance, a new approach will be needed in the UK which in recent years has conspicuously lacked a coherent, long term energy policy. Proper long term planning will be needed to manage the future fuel mix and the lead times for research, development and implementation of alternative energy production are such that action is needed immediately in pursuit of those plans. This is in stark contrast to the short-term and "cheapest is best" mentality that has driven the UK to its current position.

  6.  Specifically in relation to wave technology, the UK/Irish Atlantic coastline is widely seen as one of the world's best wave energy climates. ETSU R-122 concluded that the economics of wave energy have improved, with several devices having estimated generating costs of 5p/kWh assuming success of R&F and longer term deployment. However, the technology needs to be successfully demonstrated to prove both the survivability and reliability of the first generation devices. Tidal stream energy has received less attention and is at an earlier stage of development. However, a review of ETSU suggests a total resource based on six reference areas of 10TWh/year.


  7.  The inclusion of wave energy within the third round of the Scottish Renewables Order has resulted in an increased level of interest, with three wave energy projects securing contracts under the order with bid prices of between 5.9 and 7.0p/kWh. One of these projects, the Limpet, is under construction. This is the fruit of R&D into oscillating wave columns. In addition, the Irish Marine Institute has co-funded the development of the WaveBob—a floating modular device operating in deep water. The wave energy programme launched in 1999 should encourage further interest in this area. IPMS is also aware of wave projects being developed elsewhere in the world, in Japan, Norway and Alaska.


  7.  There is no doubt that insufficient support has been given to the development of renewable energy sources which, although unlikely to make a major contribution to total energy needs over the next 20 years, have an important role to play in ensuring balance and diversity. IPMS therefore supports the Government's target of generating ten per cent of energy from renewables sources by 2010 though in practice this may prove to be over-optimistic given the current low baseline of 1.5 per cent of electricity generation in England and Wales and 2.8 per cent in the UK as a whole. Scotland, with 10.8 per cent of electricity generated from renewable sources, is much closer to meeting the target. The lead-time for large-scale renewable technologies, such as tidal schemes and wave power, is probably at least 10 years. IPMS believes that an action plan should be produced that provides opportunities for development of a range of renewable sources. Targets may be more readily achievable if there was greater co-ordination across government.


  8.  There is an urgent need for increased research and development, in particular on renewable sources that have not been tackled adequately by the private sector. At present, price competition is taking priority over fuel balance and environmental objectives. More profit needs to be reinvested into research and development in order to improve efficiency and protect the environment, and alternative energy provision systems should not be neglected simply because they cannot compete on the fuel price. Some renewable sources are near to achieving economic competitiveness, and the decision by some regional electricity companies to introduce "green" tariffs should assist in this regard. However, for wider promotion of renewable sources—including wave and tidal energy—it will be important to establish a supportive market framework, including assigning a clear economic value for environmental benefits and resolving some of the planning difficulties that currently exist.


  9.  There are some environmental difficulties arising from renewable energy sources. However, these need to be assessed both against their positive contribution to achievement of the climate change targets adopted by the Government and a wider range of sustainability principles. Consideration should be given to a new consensual planning-led approach involving all stakeholder groups, either at regional or sub-regional level, in identifying renewable energy opportunities. Such planning groups could be charged with contributing to the Government's target for renewables, taking account of all appropriate opportunities and constraints. Such groups would need to take account of the potential impact of establishing, operating and decommissioning renewable energy schemes. IPMS agrees with English Nature that there must be appropriate management systems to maintain Sites of Special Scientific Interests (SSSI) in a favourable condition and that there should be continuing monitoring and evaluation of new developments, with a view to mitigating any adverse impact. The Non Fossil Fuel Obligation contracting process should take full account of the Government's broader environmental policy framework.

  10.  Specific challenges for wave and tidal energy include safeguarding the habitats of the large population of marine mammals in the Pentland Firth and Channel Islands, which are prime sites for tidal stream energy, as well as impact on fishing grounds. Consideration should also be given to the visual impact on the landscape of new power transmission lines from shoreline terminals.

February 2001

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