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


Memorandum submitted by the Institution of Electrical Engineers


Solar Energy

  There are various systems of capture for solar energy, but one that should be considered for further RD&D is photovoltaic. Photovoltaic systems rely on the light, rather than the heat of the sun and should have excellent application in many UK installations. However, capital cost is the main obstacle and more research is required to reduce manufacturing costs and to increase production quantities.

Wave Energy

  All recent current developments in wave energy are laboratory experiments or prototype plant to demonstrate concept. The technology is very much in its infancy and will require considerable costly demonstration if it is to move forward. The DTI has recognised the need to support the development of wave energy and the "New and Renewables Energy Programme" has allocated funds for the development of new concepts and to improve the economic attractiveness of existing ones.

Wind Energy

  Onshore wind is now well proven and cost effective and the PIU Energy Review relies very heavily on the implementation of this technology. However, there is obviously a major disadvantage with wind energy in that output is variable and dependent on weather. Although steps can be taken to minimise the effects of weather, there will always be a residual variability in supply, and this is in conflict with a grid system that must meet whatever demand the multiplicity of users currently creates. Conventional thinking therefore has it that renewable capacity can only provide a limited percentage of grid capacity, with the result that electricity from more conventional power plant will still be required. Consequently, research into technologies that significantly reduce the level of emissions from conventional power plant ie carbon sequestration, is essential.

Carbon Sequestration

  Carbon sequestration can be defined as the capture and secure storage of carbon that:

    (a)  would otherwise be emitted to the atmosphere, or

    (b)  is already present in the atmosphere in excessive amounts.

  The idea is to keep carbon emissions from reaching the atmosphere by capturing and diverting them to safe storage or removing carbon from the atmosphere by various means and storing it.

  It is important to carry out RD&D on carbon sequestration for the following reasons:

    —  Carbon sequestration could be a major tool for reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuels. Current estimates of fossil fuel resources imply sufficient resources to supply a significant portion of the world's energy sources through the next century. Carbon sequestration is compatible with the continued large-scale use of fossil fuel, as well as greatly reduced emissions of CO2 to the atmosphere. However, much work remains to be done to understand the science and engineering aspects and potential of carbon sequestration options.

    —  The UK accounts for an extremely small proportion of the carbon emissions that are produced globally. Therefore any initiatives to reduce carbon emissions must focus on the global situation and not just that in the UK. In order for developing countries to make progress, electricity needs to be widely available, which means that power plants will need to be built. Unless the developed countries intervene, many of these new plants will burn coal with a consequent surge in carbon emissions. Enabling these countries to produce electricity cleanly must be a priority if the commitment to reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is to be realised. Carbon sequestration is one way of achieving that aim.

    —  Sequestration offers a means of producing clean hydrogen energy. Much development is ongoing to enable stored hydrogen to be the fuel for road transport, but further investment in this area would increase the chances of it becoming a reality.

Nuclear Energy

  The Energy Review, produced by the Performance and Innovation Unit, states "If renewable costs do not fall as anticipated, and/or concerns surrounding waste and risks can be resolved, nuclear would be an obvious candidate for delivering low carbon electricity." Therefore the role of nuclear power within the overall energy mix cannot be ignored. The much-publicised problem with the nuclear option is that during the production of electricity, high-level wastes and long-lived wastes are produced. The safe storage of long-lived waste is a major concern as this is still radioactive after many thousands of years, leaving a dangerous legacy for our descendants. However, many long-lived radio-isotopes can be chemically separated and converted into a more manageable form by transmutation. This is done by irradiating these isotopes in a nuclear reactor to transmute them into much shorter-lived isotopes. This largely eliminates the problem of long-term storage. However, research needs to be carried out into how practical an option this is.


  Support for RD&D, which would previously have been provided by the utilities, has all but disappeared since privatisation. This is because, with the exception of the business drivers on the electricity supply companies to get their contribution from renewables up to the required amount by 2010, there is currently no financial incentive for the problem of further CO2 reductions to be addressed. The investment required to make substantial inroads to CO2 reduction would be very significant and financially not feasible with current electricity prices.


Solar Energy

  The Dutch government has demonstrated a firm commitment to renewable energy sources and in particular to solar energy. Significant funds have been dedicated to intensify research and development, to stimulate industrial follow-up and to support large-scale demonstration projects. As previously mentioned Photovoltaic (PV) solar energy still requires a lengthy research and development period before it can compete with conventional electricity generation. However, financial support is currently available in the Netherlands through Novem (the Netherlands' agency for energy and environment) for projects that incorporate PV. An example is Amsterdam's "Nieuw Sloten" area, which is the largest building-integrated PV system in Europe. Novem is working to promote a broad co-operation between utilities, knowledge centres, building companies, industries and other interested parties to develop PV into a major source of affordable, clean energy.

Carbon Sequestration

  Both the Americans and the Canadians have been involved in CO2 capture and storage technology for some time. The International Energy Agency and PanCanadian Corporation are participating in a multi-disciplinary resarch effort into the viability of long-term subsurface storage of greenhouse gases. This involves long-term CO2 sequestration in the Weyburn Oil Field. The EU is now becoming aware of the need to invest in this area and this is demonstrated in the Sixth Framework Programme (the EU's main instrument for the funding of research in Europe). The Framework states "Research will focus on: increased cost effectiveness, performance and reliability of the main new and renewable energy sources; integration of renewable energy and effective combination of decentralised sources, with cleaner conventional large-scale generation; validation of new concepts for energy storage, distribution and use."

25 September 2002

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