Select Committee on Science and Technology Fourth Report


This inquiry sought to establish the role of research, development and demonstration (RD&D) in moving the UK towards a non-carbon fuel future. We assessed the expenditure by public funding bodies (the Research Councils, Government Departments and the Carbon Trust) and found that the sums invested in public RD&D lack focus and are wholly insufficient in helping the UK meet its renewables targets, in absolute terms and in comparison with the UK's competitors. There is a superabundance of funding bodies, resulting in fragmentation of effort and confusion in academia and industry. Where UK technologies are developed, we found the private sector unwilling to develop these technologies while the Government is failing to step in to take them forward or provide the necessary incentives to encourage private companies.

We conclude that the Government's structures for energy are inadequate and that a new Renewable Energy Authority with strong ministerial direction is needed to provide the drive to make the Government's energy targets achievable; currently they are not. The Authority would be charged with identifying Britain's strengths—its natural resources and skills—and capitalising on them in partnership with academia and business. We believe that the focus should be on offshore technologies—wind, wave and tidal—and nuclear fission and fusion.

Not only is the technology push feeble but the market pull is inadequate. The Renewables Obligation creates incentives only for technologies close to market, the Climate Change Levy is a blunt instrument and the Government's confidence in the European emissions trading scheme is misplaced. While we were pleased to see the Energy White Paper announce that new housing regulations would be forthcoming, powerful incentives to bring forward new energy technologies are lacking. We propose a radical taxation system which distinguishes between fossil fuel sources and carbon-free or carbon neutral sources at different stages of development. We believe that nuclear fission should enjoy the full status of a carbon-free technology. Renewable sources of power are not coming on stream fast enough and nuclear power must fill the gap. The Government's decision to delay a decision on nuclear leaves the UK with an energy shortfall which will only be made up with fossil fuels.

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