Select Committee on Science and Technology Fourth Report


139. According to the British Wind Energy Association, the UK has "over 33% of the total European potential offshore wind resource—enough to power the country nearly three times over".[240] A report commissioned by Greenpeace concluded that wind farms off the coast of East Anglia could supply a quarter of UK electricity needs by 2020.[241] The Government expects wind to make the largest contribution to its 2010 renewables target and, with biomass, to the 2020 "ambition".[242] Brian Wilson said he was looking to offshore to provide the big hits to reach 10% renewables target by 2010. He said there had been a bias towards wind with the DTI's capital grants scheme, but not at the expense of other technologies.[243] This is a curious statement since in a limited budget funding is always at the expense of something else.

140. A distinction is usually drawn between onshore wind and offshore wind. The Government considers that "Onshore wind is an extensively deployed and commercially viable technology and so relatively little government research and development money is allocated to it". In contrast, "Offshore wind requires further development, demonstration and assessment before it becomes a proven and commercial technology". The ERRG describes offshore wind as "near market" but that it has "long-term prospects of yielding very large reductions of carbon emissions".[244] The EPSRC clearly considers that little basic research is necessary and in 2001-02 invested only £330,000, although this is scheduled to rise to £481,000 in 2002-03. This reflects the fact, quite reasonably, that the technical obstacles are largely to do with siting major marine engineering projects in harsh environments. The Government published a consultation document, Future Offshore, in November 2002, which proposes a strategic planning framework as a basis for major expansion of the offshore wind industry.

141. We have heard criticism of the Government's research policy on wind. Dr Andrew Garrad, a wind energy consultant, argues that RD&D investment is still required on wind. The British Wind Energy Association agrees: "there is a need for continued fundamental research to achieve projected cost savings and performance improvements" into condition monitoring and novel and larger turbine designs.[245] The technology may be mature by the standards of other renewable energy sources, but even with conventional power stations, there is still work to be done on improving reliability and efficiency. The same is true for wind.


142. Geothermal energy uses subterranean heat to generate electricity or provide heating. The UK has a number of sites in which geothermal heat can be extracted from aquifers near to the surface. Southampton has a city centre district heating system fed in part by geothermal heat. A much larger resource could be tapped if access could be gained to hot rocks deep underground. Typically, two bore holes are drilled to around 3-4 miles depth in suitable locations. Geological fractures in the rocks are then formed to connect the bottom ends of the bore holes. Water is injected down one bore hole so that it percolates through the fracture pattern to re-emerge up the other bore hole as steam. The concept was pioneered in the UK and the USA but the UK RD&D programme ceased over 10 years ago on the basis that it was never likely to become commercially viable. There is an EU co-ordinated programme in France and Japan is conducting research in geothermal energy.[246]

143. The NERC states that geothermal energy has potential for domestic or small-scale commercial use but that demonstration projects are urgently needed. The adaptation of North Sea rigs also offers some possibilities although the NERC suggests that the window of opportunity is short.[247]

Combined heat and power

144. CHP is not strictly a non-carbon technology. Rather, it is a highly efficient energy technology (70-90% fuel efficiency compared with 40-50% for most power stations) which employs the heat given off as a by-product of electricity generation. CHP schemes may use a variety of fuels on a range of scales: for industries with large heat requirements, at a community level, or so-called micro-CHP for domestic users. The Government has set a target of 10,000 MWe (megaWatt equivalents) by 2010. It believes the long-term potential of CHP to be "considerable" with 600,000 SMEs and half of UK homes hosting a unit. BG MicroGen told us that a quarter of the UK's Kyoto Commitment could be delivered through micro-CHP alone if all 13 million suitable UK homes were converted.[248]

145. EPSRC spent £267,000 on CHP research in 2001-02. It is our impression that while technological improvements could do much to improve the viability of CHP (including fuel cells), many of the problems relate to the need for effective demonstration programmes and market issues, such as net metering .[249]

146. CHP has a valuable role in reducing carbon emissions and we welcome the Government's ambitious targets for its installation. We note the Environmental Audit Committee's concern that NETA, which was intended to encourage CHP, was having the opposite effect.[250] We were impressed during our visit to Japan the support given to CHP and were impressed by the demonstration programme by Osaka Gas. There is progress being made in the UK. We are aware that Woking Council has become the first UK local authority to supply customers with electricity on private wire CHP networks.[251] On the down side, we note the fact that the amount of electricity generated by CHP, having increased steadily throughout the 1990s to a peak in 2000, subsequently fell in 2001.[252]

147. It has been suggested to us that micro-CHP needs further support. BG MicroGen calls for a direct grant support from the Government and the extension of 5% VAT to accredited micro-CHP.[253] The Energy White Paper is enthusiastic about the technology but contains no new measures to encourage its deployment beyond support for further field trials and asking the Carbon Trust and the Energy Saving Trust to review current and future CHP programmes.[254]

Fuel cells

148. Fuel cells are essentially batteries with a continuous supply of fuel. This, along with the fact they have no moving parts, allows their long-term operation. They are not non-carbon technologies as such, as this depends on the fuel used, but typically they have high efficiencies and can be employed for CHP. Fuel cells have a number of applications, including:

149. After photovoltaics, fuel cells attract the largest share of the EPSRC's renewable energy funding. In 2002-03, its research funding is expected to be around £1.5 million. This compares unfavourably with Japan's Government research investment. In 2002, NEDO had a budget of ¥10.53 billion (around £55 million) for its fuel cell programme. US RD&D on fuel cells and hydrogen was reported to be $27.7 million (around £18 million) in 2001.[256] The DTI considers that "A number of serious techno-economic issues remain to be overcome before mass market applications in the fields of transport (replacement for the internal combustion engine) or stationary power generation (distributed generation/CHP) will be possible... Commercialisation for niche applications is widely expected within the next 2-5 years". We understand that the Carbon Trust and DTI will undertake a joint market assessment of RD&D needs in relation to the commercial application of fuel cells.[257]

150. According to Professor Gary Acres, UK activity in hydrogen fuel cells has been "pretty low key" until now. Professor Acres has worked for Johnson Matthey, which has been working with fuel cells for 30 years but only because of its global interests. Now, many organisations in the UK had shown an interest "almost to the point where we cannot cope with it".[258] Dr Nigel Brandon of Imperial College and Ceres Power, a spin-off company developing fuel cell technologies has identified three main barriers to the commercialisation of fuel cells:[259]

  • the current regulatory environment makes it extremely difficult to install fuel cell technologies;
  • extensive demonstration and field trials are critical to commercialisation; and
  • market entry support is needed to help "push" the technology in early years.

According to Dr Brandon, "UK industry has the potential to become an important supplier of high value components to original equipment manufacturers... UK developers anticipate sales of around 50 MWe per annum into this sector by 2010". Dr Brandon told us that the DTI had been funding small projects but was not able to fund demonstration programmes.[260]

151. The creation of Fuel Cells UK was one of the principal announcements in the Energy White Paper. It aims to "foster the development of a UK industry, to raise the profile of fuel cell activity in the UK, and to act as central liaison point for national and international activity".[261] The Government also announced that it would review, with the EPSRC, the supply of doctorates and MScs with the requisite skills.[262]

240 Back

241   Sea Wind East, a report for Greenpeace by AEA Technology; Q407 Back

242   DTI, Our energy future-creating a low carbon future, Cm 5761, February 2003, p 55 Back

243   Q 568 Back

244   OST, Report of the Chief Scientific Adviser's Energy Research Review Group, February 2002, paras 12, 42 Back

245   Ev 26 Back

246   DTI, Sustainable Energy Technology Route Maps 6: Geothermal Energy. Back

247   Ev 91 Back

248   Ev 147 Back

249   Ev 91,108 Back

250   Fifth Report of the Environmental Audit Committee, A Sustainable Energy Strategy? Renewables and the PIU Report, session 2001-02, HC 582-I, para 71; HC Deb 27 November 2002, 298W; HC Deb 12 December 2002, col 434W Back

251   Energy Savings Trust, Energy Services Case Study 06, Woking Borough Council's Thameswey Joint Venture Project; Ev 152 Back

252   HC Deb 27 November 2002, col 298W Back

253   Ev 150 Back

254   DTI, Our energy future-creating a low carbon future, Cm 5761, February 2003, para 4.18 Back

255   Ev 151-153 Back

256   OST, Report of the Chief Scientific Adviser's Energy Research Review Group, February 2002, p 37 Back

257   Ev 63 Back

258   Qq 171-172 Back

259   Ev 151 Back

260   Q 264 Back

261   DTI, Our energy future-creating a low carbon future, Cm 5761, February 2003, p 59 Back

262   As above, para 4.59 Back

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