Submission from The Royal Society of Edinburgh
1. It is hoped that the Inquiry will view
renewable technologies in the light of an overall energy strategy.
Partitioning of thinking with regard to technology options and
choices should be avoided as there are interesting opportunities
for making progress towards a much higher degree of sustainability.
To prepare for the longer term, investment in the development
of alternative sources and cleaner technologies is essential.
2. Displacing or supplementing fossil derived
energy with renewable derived energy is a truly formidable challenge
because of the scale of the problem, the incompatibility of infrastructures
required and the complex interactions between technical, policy
and economic aspects. The myriad supply and demand-side options
require an integrated approach. Solutions need to be pursued at
3. The development of renewables is dependant
on the value of Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) and to
this extent is a distortion of the market in generation.
4. Research, development and demonstration
of projects are paramount and these aspects should be built-in
to a programme and not treated in isolation to one another. Full
scale demonstrators are essential if commercialisation is to be
5. The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE)
is pleased to respond to the House of Commons Science and Technology
Committee Inquiry into renewable energy-generation technologies.
These comments have been compiled with the assistance of a number
of expert Fellows of the RSE, under the direction of the Vice-President,
Professor John Mavor.
6. The response has been written to correspond
with the layout and framework of the points raised by the committee
of inquiry. In terms of timescales, near term is deemed as being
five years or less, medium term is five to 15 years and long term
is beyond 15 years.
7. The majority of the UK's natural resources
in wind, hydro, marine and biomass energy are found in the north
of the UK. This is illustrated by the fact that 50% of the UK
renewable energy production is sourced from Scotland.
Therefore, it is recognised that renewable sources of energy are
a key contributor to energy supply needs because of their low
greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as well as their abundance. However,
it should be recognised that abundance of resource does not necessarily
result in its utilisation as that resource must be harnessed effectively
8. Scotland has major research and development
strengths across the energy spectrum, including renewable energy-generation
technologies, particularly within its institutions. In the UK,
the University of Strathclyde, judged in relation to the Engineering
and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Carbon Trust
research income it receives, is first in electricity transmission
and distribution, while the University of Edinburgh is first in
ocean energy while the University of St Andrews is second in energy
storage. Also, The Sustainable Power Generation and Supply initiative
(Supergen) research consortia in marine energy, highly distributed
power systems and energy storage is led by Scottish universities.
Furthermore, crucial to the pull-through of renewable energy technology
is the need for the research and development community to be in
close proximity to leading development and demonstration facilities
as well as energy sources. In Scotland such facilities include
the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), PURE Energy Centre on
Unst, Scottish Enterprise Energy Technologies Centre, and the
University of Edinburgh's curved wave tank. Furthermore, pull-through
and commercialisation is being aided by the Intermediary Technology
Institute (ITI) in Energy, based in Aberdeen, which has £150
million to fund and manage early stage research and development
programmes across the energy spectrum, including renewables, power
networks and energy storage.
Committee Question 1 The current state of
UK research and development in, and the deployment of, renewable
energy-generation technologies including: offshore wind; photovoltaics,
hydrogen and fuel cell technologies; wave; tidal; bioenergy; ground
source heat pumps: and intelligent grid management and energy
9. Offshore wind is now a mature technology
and the wind industry in the UK is the fastest growing in the
world, although the support infrastructure is fragile. Offshore
wind installations offer the opportunity for greater wind strength
and duration and the absence of visual intrusion in the landscape.
The design and placement of large structures offshore is a mature
technology and a legacy of the oil and gas industry. However,
development of offshore wind generation in the UK is proving excessively
slow, such that the enormous potential of the Scottish west coast
in particular, and the potential for associated commercial exploitation,
risk not being realised. Grid connection issues pose technical
challenges. In Scotland, at March 2006, 180 MW had been consented
to and a further 10 MW planned. This includes the UK and Europe's
flagship Talisman/Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) Deepwater
Offshore Windfarm Demonstrator in the Moray Firth, which is currently
under construction. If the demonstrator proves successful, a commercial
full-scale development could be viable.
Photovoltaics (PV) and solar thermal
10. The generation and applicability of
electrical power photovoltaics has been greatly enhanced by two
developments. One is the development of amorphous photovoltaic
cells which promise to become much cheaper than existing technology.
The other is the development of microelectronic controls which
permit domestically-generated electricity to be fed into a national
grid. The current collection efficiency of photovoltaic cells
is around 10% although the latest technology has an efficiency
of 15%. This technology is best incorporated with new build housing
and applications remote from the grid. Research is needed to increase
efficiencies even higher for this technology.
11. On the other hand, solar thermal produces
hot water and actually works well in Scotland because although
sunnier climates have higher solar radiation levels, Scotland's
cooler climate allows us to make good use of the solar heat produced.
The technology is simple and well developed.
Hydrogen and fuel cell technologies
12. A critical driver for hydrogen and fuel
cell technology is to implement renewable energy in mobile applications
and hydrogen seems to offer the best solution. Large scale implementation
of hydrogen fuel transport is generally accepted to be verging
on long term largely due to cost and development needs. Due to
the intrinsic high conversion efficiency for electricity production
and its scalability, significant stationary fuel cell deployment
is anticipated in the near to medium term. This will focus upon
distributed generation and combined heat and power (CHP) applications
and provides an opportunity to significantly extend dynamic renewable
generation through mitigation of intermittency problems. Potential
fuels include both fossil sources such as natural gas and coal,
biogases from waste and biomass pyrolysis.
13. More medium term application of hydrogen
for transport include using it in a normal combustion engine.
Public transport is particularly amenable to hydrogen fuel cell
implementation as there is much less need for a distribution network
and storage in buses is easier to implement. As part of the EU
CUTE programme, the largest hydrogen bus demonstration in the
world, three fuel cell buses are being run by London Transport.
These are supplied by the only hydrogen fuelling station in the
UK, operated by BP at Hornchurch. Despite its relatively small
scale, the PURE Energy Centre on Unst is involved in the research
and development of hydrogen technologies, and has utilised wind
power to extract hydrogen from sea water and use it in conjunction
with a fuel cell. However, the problem of hydrogen storage is
the primary issue and work on identifying hydrogen storage materials
continues worldwide, including here in Scotland.
14. Unfortunately, the recent announcement
that BP has decided to cancel plans for its Peterhead hydrogen
extraction scheme is an untimely blow as the scheme was a major
UK project not only in terms of hydrogen development but also
carbon sequestration and enhanced oil recovery.
15. As part of its response to the report,
A Strategic Framework for Hydrogen in the UK (June 2005), the
Government announced a £15 million, four-year programme for
hydrogen and fuel cell demonstrations. However, in Scotland, the
Hydrogen Energy Group (HEG) established by the Forum for Renewable
Energy Development in Scotland (FREDS) has recently published
a report, Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Opportunities for Scotland (October
2006) which highlights UK investment in hydrogen and fuel cell
technology as being negligible in contrast to the USA, Canada,
Germany and Japan. Therefore, more support is needed and as the
government appears to view hydrogen energy activity as an important
focus, it should press ahead with the establishment of the Hydrogen
Coordination Unit (HCU).
16. Wave power systems are weather dependent,
to at least the same degree as wind turbines. Wave generation
is at the development stage and no economic large scale wave energy
device has yet been produced. As has been the case in other fields,
there have been some well documented and spectacular failures
17. Scotland has companies involved in the
design and construction of wave-energy devices, considerable relevant
expertise in its universities and the Scottish Executive has given
significant support to the development and implementation of these
technologies. Wave energy converters need hydrodynamic characteristics
to enable them to operate at maximum efficiency over the normal
range of sea conditions, yet they must be robust enough to withstand
the worst storms. Edinburgh-based company Ocean Power Delivery's
(OPD) Pelamis has been tested and demonstrated at the EMEC in
Orkney and is currently being installed off the Portuguese coast.
With financial support from the Scottish Executive, there are
also plans to utilise Pelamis technology to build the world's
largest commercial wave farm in Scotland. However, it should be
recognised that this would equate to a capacity of only 3 MW.
Therefore, the commercial deployment of wave technology has to
be regarded as medium to long term.
18. Tidal power output is distinct from
wave as it can be predicted to a high degree of certainty. Tidal
barrage technology is technically proven; the La Rance scheme
in France has provided 240 MW since its construction in 1967.
Approximately eight sites have been identified in the UK as suitable
for barrages, including the largest proposal, the 9 GW Severn
barrage. Estimates suggest that a combination of a barrage system
across the River Severn and an under sea, bi-directional, un-enclosed
turbine array across 10-20% of the Pentland Firth could meet circa
25% of the UK demand for electrical power. However, to ensure
diversity of supply, it would not be appropriate to rely on such
a large proportion of supply from such limited number of sources
and sites. A barrage scheme, such as the Severn, would have to
be regarded as a long term development.
19. The proposal for the large Pentland
Firth tidal current system is at a very early stage of research
and has not progressed much beyond the simple conceptual stage.
However, there are other, smaller potential sites for tidal current
energy around the coast that would provide a modest contribution
in a much-reduced timescale. In this regard, a prototype by Marine
Current Turbines has been operating in the Bristol Channel since
2003. With this in mind, tidal current technology deployment would
be regarded as near term, provided that the Renewables Obligation
can provide the necessary level of support.
20. Biomass resources can be used for a
number of energy applications including electricity generation,
heat, CHP, and the production of fuels for transport. With regard
to electricity generation, the co-firing of biomass in existing
plant, particularly coal, is currently done relatively quickly
and at low cost and can give an immediate reduction in emissions.
Furthermore, there are plans for dedicated biomass plants and
one such plant is under construction in Lockerbie. The combustion
of biomass for electricity generation will therefore occur in
the near term. The combustion of biomass and waste is a mature
technology and has potential as an energy source for water and
space heating. Both energy crops and forestry material are best
suited for distributed systems, as opposed to centralised generation,
in heat-only or CHP. These systems, which include electricity
as well as heating and cooling, cover distributed energy applications
ranging from domestic microgeneration to industrial-scale CHP
and medium to large scale renewable energy projects.
21. While there is always the possibility
of incremental improvements in the efficiency of combustion plant,
the real technical challenges lie in the advanced technology for
producing biofuels. The Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation places
a requirement on transport fuel suppliers to ensure that 5% of
their overall fuel sales is from a renewable source by 2010. The
two principal sources at present are bioethanol and biodiesel.
Bioethanol is most efficiently produced
from rapidly growing, high carbohydrate content crops. In the
UK plants are being developed to produce bioethanol from both
wheat and sugar beet. In fact, Ensus has recently announced (March
2007) that it has secured funding to build the UK's first large-scale
wheat bioethanol plant, which is due to be operational in 2009.
Biodiesel is produced from oil crops
such as rape, linseed and sunflower. There is mounting interest
in this area in Scotland. The first large scale commercial biodiesel
plant started production in March 2005 at the Argent Energy Plant
in Lockerbie. Also, INEOS Enterprise is investing £70 million
in a biodiesel production facility at its Grangemouth site. The
biodiesel is produced from cooking oil and tallow. However, the
biggest potential may be in the form of "second generation"
biofuels. These biofuels would be produced from any plant feedstocks
other than food crops and use advanced chemical processes to break
down the cellulose in the feedstock.
Ground source heat pumps and other microgenerators
22. The Scottish Executive launched its
draft Energy Efficiency & Microgeneration Strategy in March
2007 with the aim of encouraging a greater uptake of microgeneration.
Such technologies include heat pumps, micro-wind, micro-hydro,
micro-CHP, biomass, solar PV and solar thermal. These technologies
are mature and the Scottish Community and Householders Renewables
Initiative (SCHRI) offers advice and grants to help with the installation
of microrenewables. The Scottish Executive is developing a renewable
heat strategy as the energy used for heating is a significant
proportion of energy consumption and to date there has been a
tendency to focus upon electricity generation.
Intelligent grid management and energy storage
23. With regard to the Grid network, it
is likely that in the near future there will be increasing levels
of renewable sources of power, producing variable and intermittent
supplies. In some ways this will change the operation of the network
as the branches of the network will need to be more flexible and
have increased capacity to cope with new generation "tapered"
towards the periphery. This will require active management of
the network and Ofgem has been quite far-sighted by creating a
range of incentives for further development and application, such
as the Innovation Funding Incentive (IFI) and Registered Power
Zones (RPZ) programmes. Short term difficulties in the areas of
integration and network management are being solved through this
route. Furthermore, the Joint DTI/Ofgem Working group is doing
a lot of work in this area and much of the Grid technology needed
is already identified. There is on-going R&D activity in the
electrical network technology field, including power electronics
and active network management systems. University departments
working in these fields are probably the principal repositories
of expertise since the dismantling of the research base of the
power utilities in the previous decades. The main concerns in
this area surround the distribution system, particularly in light
of increasing levels of distributed energy.
24. Major research, development and demonstration
in energy storage technologies is needed to meet the needs of
increasing intermittent renewables in the system and to balance
supply and demand. Pumped storage hydroelectricity is the only
proven large scale energy storage mechanism and has been operating
for decades using a relatively simple principle. Pumped storage
offers a crucial back-up facility at periods of high demand due
to its flexibility and could be used to store power from intermittent
generators at periods of low demand. There are a range of alternative
energy storage technologies being considered such as flywheels,
compressed gas and electrochemical technologies.
25. Electrochemical technologies provide
some of the most practical solutions. For larger scales, redox
flow fuel cells have particular potential and are being developed
by Plurion in Scotland with support from ITI Energy. For smaller
stationary applications and mobile applications in particular,
modern battery technology, based on either lithium or on nickel-metal-hydride
is being considered. Over the last 10 years, the performance of
lithium batteries has improved by approximately 30% in terms of
their ability to store energy and over the next 10 years, researchers
in Scotland expect a further improvement of 50-100% in density,
as well as a tenfold improvement in charge and discharge rate.
There is considerable expertise in this field in Scotland in St
Andrew's University and the UK should continue to invest in lithium
ion technology for batteries. Furthermore, capacitors/supercapacitors
are used in conjunction with batteries to provide a power boost,
Committee Question 2 The feasibility, costs,
timescales and progress in commercialising renewable technologies
as well as their reliability and associated carbon footprints.
26. With regard to the commercialisation
of offshore wind, wave and tidal technology, many barriers exist.
Although, as illustrated above, progress has been made, the gap
between capital costs, expected operational costs and revenue
still remains too large for substantial industrial commitment,
without improvements in the ROC system. Uncertainty about real
future costs, particularly the operating and maintenance costs
is a major problem. Turbine prices are increasing as global demand
expands, reliability is uncertain, raw material prices are high
and grid connections are uncertain. It is important that work
take place to establish whether some of the above risks can be
mitigated, by a regime of capital grants and adjustments to economic
27. The reliability of the performance of
large-scale marine power generating plants has still to be tested
but there are concerns about the ability of ocean wave and tide
generators to operate reliably in the extremely high energy environments
in which they will operate. Furthermore, the most likely sources
of marine energy in the UK are at some considerable distance from
likely large users of electricity. Hence the total costs for design
and erection of the energy generators, and the power transmission
system must be analysed and estimated in relation to the market,
and the price which the market will pay. Too often in the past,
seemingly attractive projects have foundered because of over-optimistic
initial assumptions and omissions of key cost elements, for example
in transmission/distribution. The problem of grid connection is
common to all renewable sources as distribution grids tend to
be "tapered" towards their periphery, which is often
where the renewable energy is available. Therefore, there are
important possibilities for applying renewable technologies to
produce chemicals close to generation sites, displacing fossil
fuel based chemical production in other sites.
28. In the case of wave technology, devices
that have been developed and demonstrated are highly subsidised.
The Pelamis project in Portugal is subject to a guaranteed price
for its electricity for 15 years. Therefore, these technologies
present a major, medium to long term opportunity for the UK. In
the UK, Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) have stimulated
the development of onshore wind, being the only technology closest
to market, at the expense of other technologies. In the Energy
White Paper of 2007 there is a policy proposal to implement a
banding regime with regard to the Renewables Obligation. The aim
of this is to bring forward emerging renewable technologies. The
current proposals indicate that the level of support for emerging
technologies would increase to 2 ROCs/MWh. Furthermore, in Scotland,
a Marine Supply Obligation (MSO) has been proposed to provide
additional encouragement for the development of wave and tidal
sources located in Scotland. However, these proposals as they
stand may not provide sufficient incentive to make emerging technologies
29. An issue that has not been mentioned
thus far is that some renewable energy technologies could present
considerable challenges to sustainable management of the marine
environment. The types of risk to marine wildlife that need most
attention involve those concerning some of the most iconic marine
species, including large sharks, seals, dolphins and whales, as
well as seabirds. The engineering solutions for both tidal and
wave power technologies need to include the assessment of environmental
risks from an early stage because this could affect both the design
and the commercial viability of different designs. The environmental
compliance issues are rarely built-in to design briefs in advance
of technical feasibility being tested and usually come late in
the day, and as an after-thought, during testing. Although current
knowledge to help assess relative environmental suitability is
poor, developing methods of assessment and accumulating data needs
to be an integral part of the development process.
30. With regard to hydrogen production,
the largest source and cheapest commercial process for the manufacture
of hydrogen is by reforming methane, but this may produce CO2
at the point of production unless the precursor carbon monoxide
is used in the production of valuable downstream fuels such as
methanol. Therefore, it may be more appropriate to use the methane
in combustion plant for electricity generation rather than for
the manufacture of hydrogen, whilst developing higher efficiency
technologies such as fuel cells. Also, since 50% of the world's
known gas (methane) supplies are stranded due to lack of infrastructure,
methane reforming and processes such as Fischer-Tropsch could
be used for gas to liquid transformation, which would allow access
to this huge additional resource of high hydrogen, low carbon
31. Production of hydrogen using wind energy
is low carbon if not entirely carbon-free, as carbon is produced
both during the manufacture and the commissioning stages, and
is also an expensive way to produce hydrogen, as is using nuclear
energy in the electrolysis of water. There is potential in hydrogen
as an energy vector for transport applications in the longer term
provided that it is produced from low carbon emissions sources.
Widespread applications of hydrogen technology require major investment
in production, transport and storage infrastructure, and stimulation
of demand. Until costs are reduced and mass production is developed,
the evolution of a hydrogen economy will be slow.
32. With regard to the commercialisation
of bioenergy, the high cost of transport of relatively low energy
content means that woody material should be converted to energy
within about 50 km of its source. Although this is not an entirely
carbon-neutral source of energy, with proper management carbon
costs can be kept low. In terms of biofuel, plant oils and crops
can fetch a good price for industrial or food uses, therefore
the economic case for biofuel production may be weak at present
unless farmers get a guaranteed market and price. However, there
are global food security concerns as increased use of food crops
for biofuel production could lead to food shortages and increased
prices which would be felt most by the poorest sections of society.
The primary barriers to "second generation" biofuels
concern the technology and prohibitively high costs at present.
33. As for energy from ground source heat
pumps as well as other microrenewables, a primary barrier is the
estimated rates of return on capital investment being measured
in decades, although this period would be reduced by grants being
available. Other issues include limited public awareness of technologies
as well as planning and technical constraints. In terms of good
practice, it is best to install such technologies as part of a
new build. With the market for microrenewables being at a very
early stage of development, significant deployment of these technologies
falls within the long term timeframe.
34. Furthermore, it is the case that one
of the major threats to the commercialisation of energy technologies
in the UK is the lack of technically-skilled human capital. Young
engineers are not entering into programmes of education and training
in the energy sector as they once did and this must be rectified
if there is to be progress in commercialisation.
Committee Question 3 The UK Government's role
in funding research and development for renewable energy-generation
technologies and providing incentives for technology transfer
and industrial research and development.
35. One major casualty of the privatised
energy industry has been research, development and demonstration.
The world-renowned research carried out by the Central Electricity
Generating Board (CEGB) and the South of Scotland Electricity
Board (SSEB) in the 1970s and 1980s has been abandoned by the
privatised energy companies. While the Government has stimulated
research in renewables to a limited extent, a comprehensive energy
supply research programme with a practical demonstration focus
needs to be established.
36. Therefore, the government should be
commended for its proposal to form the Energy Technologies Institute
(ETI) which focuses on the delivery of usable technology. The
priority themes of the ETI include large scale energy supply technologies,
support infrastructure and energy security. With the emphasis
on a public and private sector partnership, there is scope for
truly innovative and rewarding research and development, and this
initiative needs to be taken forward urgently. Such support must
be far-sighted in nature to provide the incentives and certainty
to encourage further investment.
37. As part of this, the government must
investigate the skills crisis and introduce initiatives to act
as a catalyst to introduce new students to energy-related discipline
areas. In Scotland, some effort has been made by the Scottish
Enterprise, High Technology Talent Strategy Board in this area.
The government's Knowledge Transfer Partnership programme is a
most effective enabler for knowledge transfer and a flagship programme
could usefully be established in the area of new and renewable
energy systems. Such an initiative would both bridge the industry/academia
gap and help with the training of new graduates.
38. To date, UK renewables other than onshore
wind have received limited support and the demonstration infrastructure
has not been within the remit of the DTI. The average annual per
capita R&D spending on renewables 1990-2005 was a little over
0.3 Euros in the UK while in Spain it was about 0.5 Euros, Japan
about 0.9 Euros and Germany almost 1 Euro.
Indeed, time delays have been observed to place renewable projects
in jeopardy: eg the Marine Current Turbines demonstration in Strangford
Loch in Northern Ireland. This situation may be contrasted with
that which prevails in Portugal where designated sites are made
available to developers.
Committee Question 4 Other possible technologies
for renewable energy-generation.
39. A physical consequence of conventional
thermal plants is that high-grade heat has to be rejected. Some
of that heat, where appropriate, should be captured in local heating
schemes and CHP plants, or used in conjunction with combined cycle
gas turbines (CCGT).
40. While not a generation technology, active
demand-side control (enacted via the Internet for example) is
a facilitating technology because it is able to reshape load profiles
to better accommodate stochastic renewable supplies while arranging
co-operative switching with the public energy supply systems during
times of shortfall. There is an opportunity to significantly escalate
research in this area.
Any enquiries about this submission should be
addressed to the RSE's Consultations Officer, Mr William Hardie
The Royal Society of Edinburgh response
to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee Inquiry,
The Practicalities of Developing Renewable Energy (October 2003).
Science Scotland, Energy Special,
Issue 5 (Spring 2006).
The Royal Society of Edinburgh's
Inquiry into Energy Issues for Scotland (June 2006).
Scottish Science Advisory Committee,
Scientific Network of Excellence in Energy (December 2006).
The Energy Technologies Partnership,
Expression of Interest in Support of the UK Energy Technologies
Institute (February 2007).
13 The Energy Technologies Partnership Back
IEA energy R&D database (Euros based on 2005 prices) Back