Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002
140. So what action do you think the Government
needs to be taking to get that sort of holistic approach to using
(Mr Scott) Sending long-term signals
that it is serious about transitional support for those energy
technologies that are not currently viable. There are good examples
that we wrote about in our submission. Jim?
(Dr Watson) I would just expand on the BP point that
you made really. That they have said publicly quite often that
if there was a sufficiently big roof programme for PV, and they
think our programme at the moment is not sufficiently big, but
if there was, they would build a factory tomorrow in the UK. And
that is their way of bringing the cost down and so on. So their
argument is a fairly simple one actually. It is not that complex.
141. I presume the point is not just limited
to PV and BP?
(Mr Scott) No, it is just an illustration.
It is the same for wind power, for example. The UK had leading
wind power expertise in the 1980s. But then the UK more or less
killed the wind power research programme and the expertise went
elsewhere. Why has Denmark got six of the world's seven largest
firms that are building wind turbine generators? It is because
they have had a long-term support for that industry in Denmark.
142. Can we just come back to fusion? You produced
this table which shows that the countries that belong to the International
Energy Agency have nearly all reduced their investment on R &
D in energy production. Only Japan has increased by plus 47%.
The figures for Britain show that the reduction in this 10 year
time scale, which was 1988 to 1999, is minus 87% for Britain.
It is the worst in this table, is it not? But the figures end
in 1999. I would be interested in seeing the last three years'
figures to bring the table up to date, if you are able to supply
those, because my feeling is that the figures have got better
since this table was given to us by yourselves. Is your real objection,
let us get to the bottom line here, to continuing the investment
in the fusion project, which, after all, has gone a long way down
the road now, purely monetary, or do you just believe that the
thing will never become commercially viable?
(Dr Watson) I just come back to our previous
point that it is not a yes or no, it is a proportional question.
On the figures point, I am sure there are more recent figures
now and I think you are right, you will see a turning of the corner,
because it could not go in any other way, to be quite honest,
in the UK. If it got any smaller, it would be really quite embarrassing.
But it has turned a corner with more injection, for example, into
renewable energy R & D. I would not be surprised and certainly
if the Committee would like, we would be happy to see if we can
update those figures as far as we can.
143. That would be useful. Can I just suggest
that maybe the transfer of the responsibility for fusion R &
D to the EPSRC may highlight more, which is what you seem to be
asking for, more the deficiencies in investment in other forms
of new energy production. Do you see that as a good thing?
(Professor Hulme) We certainly draw attention
to that point.
(Mr Scott) The majority of the investment in fusion
is via Euratom and there seems to be an indication that that is
somehow a fixed commitment through the Euratom Treaty. I think
I am right in saying that.
(Dr Watson) It is certainly more fixed than if it
was just in the gift of the UK Government on its own.
144. The problem, if I may so, is we are committed
to the ITER Project now and to pull out of the ITER Project would
be very difficult for Britain. The US pulled out of it. We are
in it, the European countries with Japan, and from what we saw
with our visit to Japan, I was quite staggered at the success
of the current project, the deuterium fusion project at Naka in
Japan. How can we pull out of the ITER Project now? Never mind
(Dr Watson) I think it is in view of
those difficulties, particularly those political difficulties,
that we would not say let us cut fusion, let us raise the overall
budget and get it into a proportionate place.
145. The international evidence shows that we
are highly unlikely to meet our renewable targets that are mooted
in the PIU Report. Given that we need to therefore fill the gap
with non-carbon sources, do you think we should be going ahead
with some fission, improved fission reactor technology research?
(Mr Scott) The Chief Scientific Advisor's
inquiry into energy R & D, which fed into the PIU Report,
did not mention nuclear fission and we did not mention nuclear
fission in our submission.
146. The Chief Scientist has said that he wants
to keep the nuclear fission option open and sees it as clearly
a stepping stone to help us to meet our quota of targets.
(Mr Scott) I think in terms of commercial
viability nuclear fission has not proved to be a particularly
good option and
147. Do you know what the French are doing on
research in nuclear fission reactor technology at the moment?
(Mr Scott) Not in detail.
(Dr Watson) I am sure they are doing quite a lot.
They are involved in some
148. Almost the whole of their budget.
(Dr Watson) It is, absolutely. If you
were to take nuclear out of the French budget, the French budget
would be very small.
149. I wanted to come onto private investment
in energy and talk about the regulatory aspect of it. What changes
in regulation do you think would help to improve private investment
in energy research, bearing in mind that BNFL Westinghouse are
doing most of the fission research on pebble bed at the moment?
(Dr Watson) I think I could, if I may,
expand on the point a little that I made about the networks businesses,
for example, in that they are regulated. A lot of this decarbonisation
that we see that is necessary hinges on integrating many, many
new renewable energy generators, many, many new small power plants,
new types of technology like fuel cells and so on, into networks
that we have already. Until those companies, or people surrounding
those companies, are allowed to do more long term transformational
R & D then you might produce all the widgets you like, whether
they are renewable, nuclear or whatever, but actually integrating
them into this system as a whole is going to be an incredibly
tough task. As you have seen by the news about 24/7 today, there
is now an inquiry as to why they have not got people's supplies
back on after the storms at the weekend.
150. But with respect, I asked you what changes
would you like to see in the regulatory system to encourage more
private investment in energy research.
(Dr Watson) I would like to see, for
example, a regulatory change so they are allowed to do R &
D and recover the costs from consumers basically. That is the
151. What regulatory obstacles do you see to
greater public investment in R & D in energy?
(Dr Watson) I do not really see any.
I think it is in terms of will and how much money you want to
spend. Any regulatory obstacles, I think, would come from the
EU and their State Aid Rules, which obviously have to be taken
into account every time we spend money on R & D.
Chairman: Thank you very much. I am sorry we
have to move along. I know it was a bit sticky at times, but you
can see what we are after. We are trying to get some way of moving
forward from a very poor position perhaps. I think you agree with
that. I just hoped you would tell me what it should be, but maybe
that is too simplistic. Thank you very much to all three of you
for starting us up today.