Memorandum submitted by the Institution
of Electrical Engineers
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.
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.
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,
Carbon sequestration can be defined as the capture
and secure storage of carbon that:
(a) would otherwise be emitted to the atmosphere,
(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 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.
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.
RD&D OF PRIVATISATION,
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.
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.
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