Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 19

Submission from the Renewable Energy Association (REA)


  1.  Renewable energy currently accounts for about 2% of UK energy (one of the lowest penetrations in Europe). The EU has now agreed a target of 20% contribution to total energy from renewables by 2020. If this is adopted at the national level (and there are good reasons why the UK share should exceed the 20% average), it will require a ten-fold increase in deployment over the next thirteen years (it has increased about two-fold in the last 13). It will also, on present trends, make renewables a larger contributor to UK energy than coal or nuclear.

  2.  There are several important implications for a change of this scale:

    —  A substantial growth will be required in renewable heat and transport fuels. Historically almost all of the UK focus has been on renewable electricity generation.

    —  Renewable energy is particularly well suited to decentralised generation, which also provides other benefits in energy efficiency. This has impacts on networks and other infrastructure.

    —  Renewable energy offers many options for on-site energy production. This will lead to new requirements and opportunity for interfaces with the energy user in many areas including metering and performance displays.

    —  Therefore research and development needs also to consider a wide range of interface technologies, in addition to the generation technologies themselves.


  3.  We comment below mainly on the less commercially mature technologies, and in particular on marine energy, for the following reasons. Marine energy is an emerging technology with potential for an installed capacity of 1.0—2.5 GW each of wave and tidal energy across Europe by 2020.[18] The UK has around 35% of Europe's wave resource and 50% of its tidal resource, and is the current world leader in device development. It therefore should exemplify best practice when it comes to R&D, and if there are shortcomings in our management of R&D in this sector, they are likely to also occur in other sectors.

  4.  Academic research in the area of marine renewable energy is burgeoning, with many universities, such as Southampton and Lancaster, setting up their own "Centres for Marine Energy". The research programme at Edinburgh University, funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council's Supergen initiative, provides useful data on issues of generic interest to the marine renewables sector.

  5.  However, many of these universities are also developing their own marine generating devices, such as the Manchester "Bobber" and Southampton University's tidal turbine. This creates a tension between academia and commercial developers, since the latter are reluctant to divulge their intellectual property to a university with the expertise to assist with their technical development, but who may also be a potential competitor. There is a need for unbiased test centres and independent expertise—particularly for early-stage devices—to take forward the ideas of commercial developers (which may of course result, in some cases, in demonstrating that the ideas are not viable).

  6.  A small number of UK marine energy developers are well-advanced with their R&D. Marine Current Turbines (MCT) of Bristol has conducted a staged development programme consisting of small scale tests off a raft in Loch Linnhe during the early 1990s, progressing to installation of a 350 kW demonstrator in the Bristol Channel in 2003 and culminating in construction of a grid-connected 1.2 MW generator to be deployed this year in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland. The company plans to install a "farm" of tidal stream generators, producing 10s of MW, within five years.

  7.  A second 250 kW tidal stream generator, designed by Open Hydro (Dublin), is currently being tested in the ocean at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney.

  8.  Ocean Power Delivery (Edinburgh) is a world leader in wave energy generation. Their 750 kW "Pelamis" machine has also been tested at EMEC and three machines are now being constructed for deployment off the coast of Portugal, where it will provide sufficient electricity to power 1,500 households.

  9.  Wavegen's Limpet plant on the island of Islay is the only grid-connected wave generator operating under commercial conditions. The company has now signed an agreement with npower renewables, which may lead to the development of a 3MW wave energy plant in the Isle of Lewis.

  10.  The four companies mentioned above have produced the only devices in the UK to demonstrate energy generation in a real marine environment at a scale greater than a few kWs. The time and cost of associated R&D should not be underestimated and there is a wealth of ideas, particularly from retired engineers who seem to be drawn to this field, which remain undeveloped through lack of financial support.

  11.  Photovoltaics (PV), by comparison is a more developed technology in terms of the energy generation aspects. However its deployment in the UK is at a relatively low level and there is substantial potential for new developments to integrate PV into specific applications (for example building products).


  12.  The current deployment of renewable technologies in the UK is given in the table below. The data is sourced from Ofgem. The total hydro capacity in the UK is 1355 MW, the majority of which was built some decades ago, and is therefore not all accounted for in the table below.[19]

Generating stations accredited under the Renewables
Obligation Installed capacity (kW)
Number of stations

Co-firing of biomass with fossil fuel
Biomass and waste using ACT
Waste using an ACT
Micro hydro (including Hydro ? 50kW)
Hydro MW DNC
Landfill gas
Off-shore wind
On-shore wind
Wind kW
Sewage gas
Total ROC-accredited
Renewable generating stations accredited under the CCL only Energy from Waste

  13.  The data on heat generating technologies and very small scale projects is not so well documented. A good indication of smaller installations can be gleaned from the numbers of projects that have received grant funding. The DTI's data for 2005[20] is presented in the table overleaf. More up to date data would have to be gathered from those operating the various grant programmes.

Cumulative Number of Installations March 2005

Micro Hydro
Ground Source Heat Pumps
Biomass Pellet Boilers
Solar Water Heating
Micro CHP
Fuel Cells

  14.  Of the technologies listed in the two tables above, the scope for further deployment varies greatly. Those with the most potential for expansion are biomass, including energy from waste, wind energy (on and offshore), PV, wave and tidal energy, along with all of the heat producing technologies (ie solar thermal, biomass and heat pumps).

  15.  Most landfill gas and sewage gas capacity is already utilised. It is traditionally assumed that there is virtually no scope for further expansion of large-scale hydro, due to conservation-based environmental concerns. However the REA believes that with climate change continuing to rise up the agenda, this may not always be the case. This also applies to tidal barrages.

  16.  Now that the UK is signed up to a new EU renewable energy target of 20% by 2020, the drive to use biomass for sectors other than electricity will be stronger. Until now we have only had a renewable electricity target. Also, if the target is measured using the Eurostat rather than substitution principle, biomass has an advantage over those technologies that produce electricity only.[21]

  17.  Wind energy and wave and tidal are clearly anticipated to provide the major growth in power generation technology deployment. Wind energy is well-documented elsewhere, and therefore we focus mostly on the prospects for wave and tidal energy.

  18.  The UK is well placed to take forward marine renewable energy projects, benefiting from existing expertise in the offshore oil and gas industries. At the same time, first movers in the field, such as MCT, have been hindered by competition from the offshore industry for scarce and expensive resources, such as the jack-up rigs needed for installation. Contractors will understandably choose to work for an established industry, where the risks are understood, rather than for a risky, new venture.

  19.  Even with this existing marine expertise, there are new challenges to be overcome for offshore "wet" renewables, particularly the problems of working (for deployment and maintenance operations) in a high wave and/or tidal stream environment. Survivability of generators in this environment is another issue and devices have to be engineered for longevity, which increases their costs.

  20.  The cost of environmental monitoring—a requirement for the licensing process—is overwhelming. The budget for MCT's Seagen project in Strangford Lough was £8 million, of which £2 million was for the environmental impact assessment (EIA) and subsequent monitoring. The industry will not attract outside investment, when such a high percentage of project costs is seen to be consumed by conservation issues.

  21.  The EIA and licensing process presents a further disincentive to outside investment. The offshore wind industry has spent considerable upfront sums on an EIA for a particular site, only to have the consent denied and we believe that similar situations may arise for wave and tidal projects. This is an area where government could assist, by providing baseline EIAs for locations of high wave and tidal stream energy.

  22.  Despite these drawbacks, the marine energy industry is moving forward. The publicly-funded Wavehub project in Cornwall expected to be operational next summer will provide grid-connected berths for up to four wave energy converters, all of which are now booked.

  23.  The European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney reports that all its berths (both wave and tidal) are currently under negotiation and if these go to plan, it will be full by 2009.

  24.  On the commercial front, E.ON and Lunar energy have issued a joint statement saying that they plan to build tidal power generators off the west coast of England with a total capacity of 8 MW. This is scheduled to go online by 2010.

  25.  Alderney Renewable Energy, a consortium that has five year rights to develop wave and tidal energy in the island's territorial waters, plans to install three tidal power turbines on the seabed, supplied by Open Hydro. It estimates that up to 3GW could be tapped from the site.

  26.  In the majority of other renewable technologies, particularly biomass boilers, ground and air source heat pumps, technology development and manufacture has mostly taken place outside the UK, although there are some exceptions. For many years the UK has had a prominent position in the development of small-scale wind turbines, and substantial support should be made available to this sector as it moves towards volume deployment.

  27.  We also have significant expertise in small-scale hydro-generation, which, though the UK market is modest, provides a basis for a valuable export business.

  28.  Photovoltaics (PV) is a solid-state semiconductor technology being developed on a global basis. The UK is not a leader on developing and manufacturing traditional PV cells, though there are several centres of expertise in our academic institutions, and some R&D work on emerging solar cell technologies. In addition there is acknowledged UK leadership in the field of producing feedstock for silicon solar cells and the related equipment.

  29.  The UK has also been prominent in developing PV products for building-integrated system, and in a wide range of related architectural issues.

  30.  We should be ready to support any such areas, where the UK has an existing or potential world-class position.

  31.  We would propose there would be value in a strategic assessment of all of the technologies mentioned above to identify areas, where particular potential exists for UK industry. This should lead to a national research, development and deployment programme to raise the capabilities of UK industry in the sector.


  32.  The committee is right to include grid management in its enquiry—this should encompass transmission and distribution, and may increasingly involve actions on the other side of the meter—ie demand-side measures. All need to change in order to accommodate target levels of renewable generation. Intelligent may have many meanings:.

    —  more detailed information regarding running conditions;

    —  more network protection and control;

    —  more network analysis;

    —  more sophisticated risk management;

    —  network capability to self heal; and

    —  dynamic ratings and other clever techniques for increasing capacity.

  33.  As the UK is well-provided with potential for renewable generation it is appropriate to ensure that generation is not limited by inability to deliver the power. This has long been a concern. DTI published a consultation paper in November 1999 on Network Access Management Issues, and in response the joint industry—government Embedded Generation Working Group was set up the following year (along with sub-groups). Whilst the grouping has been reconfigured a number of times, its remit has remained the same, and is now carried forward under the guise of the Electricity Networks Strategy Group (plus Transmission and Distribution working groups). Despite the research on accommodating embedded generation, over the last seven years the amount of embedded generation the networks have accommodated has barely changed as an overall percentage.

  34.  Renewable Generators have also made little contribution to the debate, mainly due to lack of resources. The various working groups are inevitably dominated by grid providers rather than users.


  35.  Much has been learnt from the work of the working groups described above, although within the last two years some of the momentum has been lost, as DTI funding for much of this work has faltered. Ofgem's arrangements for Registered Power Zones and the Innovation Funding Initiative have stimulated some new thinking on new approaches to networks business, but again, generators have not been greatly involved in the process.

  36.  R&D has proceeded only slowly. The involvement of Distribution Network Operators is crucial, but very few of them have dedicated in-house R&D experts. Much R&D has been carried out by individuals who must also run their "day job", be that network design, asset management or general management. Nevertheless, relative to the rate of progress made with deploying renewables, it has been sufficient.

  37.  Those carrying out this work, have sometimes questioned why the work is required, and observed that their distribution networks are as yet barely being challenged in the ways anticipated.

  38.  Successful developments have not been promoted sufficiently well, thus limiting the opportunities for transfer of technology developments into real solutions.

  39.  There is opportunity to align the UK very closely to the EU Strategic Research Agenda, and to secure greater influence in the programme in terms of research priorities and allocation of funds. The UK is neither "punching above its weight" nor even "punching at its weight" on this issue.


  40.  The UK is not a leader in manufacture of intelligent networks to support renewable generation, but has the potential to design and implement solutions based upon technology available elsewhere in the world. To date we have few examples of transferred technology. In the short-term we may need to adopt and adapt solutions from overseas in order to deliver renewable power.

  41.  Technology that is used overseas (such as explosive fuse links for limiting short circuit infeed from generators, thereby saving the expense of uprating switchgear) has been resisted by the DNOs in the UK, largely based of inflexible interpretations of legislation by the Health and Safety Executive. It is curious that technology that has been accepted for over a decade in many other countries is judged unsafe to be used in the UK.

  42.  Investment in know-how and funding is required to deploy intelligent networks to permit timely and economic delivery of renewable power. It will also reap benefits in the longer term in terms of export of solutions from UK plc.

  43.  Intelligent grid network management isn't always the answer. Sometime it is simply a case of deploying traditional solutions, such as new connections or reinforcement of existing networks quickly. This may require a sophisticated approach to how network operators and renewable generators work together, ie "intelligent networking of intelligent people" rather than "intelligent grids".

  44.  For effective commercialisation and deployment, network operators and solutions-providers need a long-term stable regulatory framework, and if this cannot be achieved they require rewards that include a premium to cover this risk. In the longer term fundamental commercial and regulatory market changes may be necessary to ensure that widespread deployment of intelligent grid management occurs. The distinct commercial and licensed roles of the network owner, operator generator and supplier maybe have to be revisited in order to fit an intelligent grid in a low carbon environment.


  45.  Intelligent demand management is an often neglected aspect of the debate.

  Flexible demand can be used in conjunction with intermittent energy resources to balance demand with available output. It can also be used to manage certain transmission and distribution network constraints, as an alternative to installing more wires. This strategy avoids constructing power stations that are only needed for a short time every year to meet peak demands and can resulting in significant carbon savings.

  46.  The use of demand flexibility does not have to be centrally managed. It could evolve through the autonomous actions of individuals if they were exposed to shorter term process signals than is currently the case—ie some form of "intelligent meter". Real time price and electricity consumption information could be displayed on a half hourly or other short term basis. More sophisticated facilities may be included but the basics described here would suffice.

  47.  Under the current market arrangements there would need to be a mandatory application of new minimum standards for metering to make this happen.


  48.  There is plenty of academic work on this issue, and we have no fresh data to bring to the debate. We just make one observation—there can be an excessive focus on this issue, to the extent that—particularly with biomass—we find that the best can be the enemy of the good.

  49.  It is damaging to expect the UK to leapfrog "first generation" technologies, in the expectation that better options will materialise. There is much debate on second generation biofuels, when we have barely made progress with domestic production, nor even introduced policy to deliver our target of 5% biofuel by 2010. A recent decision has been made to convert the forthcoming Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation into a carbon-based rather than volume-based policy, before it has even been introduced and before there is accurate data to substantiate the methodology for calculating carbon savings.


  50.  In general the level of support, which the UK has provided for renewable energy, has been substantially below that available in the leading nations. If we are interested in establishing a world-leading position, we must be prepared to make available significantly increased funding.

  51.  The Government has tended to think of renewables support in three phases. R&D for emerging technologies, deployment support (most often in the form of grants) for technologies that are in the process of demonstration and early commercialisation, followed by revenue based support for the final stage. This could work, but in general we find that the UK's management of renewables" grant programmes is often problematic. Recently that there have been examples of conflict between grant programmes and revenue-based support (ie the Renewables Obligation) resulting in developers having to chose between one or the other.

  52.  Many renewables technologies (in common with some from other sectors) have experienced what the REA has called "the valley of death" in the pre-commercial phase between technology development and full market deployment. We have not been good at providing support for industry at this later stage, where grants are less relevant and revenue-based support for "early movers" would be more appropriate. For example the UK was a technology leader in wind power at the early stages, but lost most of our industry when Denmark introduced deployment incentives in the late 1980's. The marine renewables industry is now in the same position (and in danger of going the same way!).

  53.  We would also note that the procedures for independent assessment of R&D proposals have been progressively watered down in recent years. For wave and tidal technology, this is now a mere box-ticking exercise at the preliminary stage, with no face-to-face meeting of assessors. We are concerned that this may lead to poor decisions on funding allocation (either funding of non-viable projects or rejection of good ideas), since much valuable information was exchanged at the past assessment meetings. This means not only that there is less oversight for the spending of Government money, but also that projects may not get as much benefit from awareness of existing technology and work on related areas.

  54.  It is not realistic to expect early stage marine renewables projects to proceed without funding for contingency. R&D money is also split between too many devices. This could be helped if government provided a small fund for inventers of new concepts, prior to the Technology Programme (TP) main stream. This should not involve the stringent requirements of commercial partnership or use the TP financial model, which in any case is not appropriate for small businesses. Devices could be taken through a rapid, cost-effective and independent evaluation procedure, to identify the best ideas and mechanisms for further development. This would reduce the wastage of public and private funds on concepts that are not viable. Furthermore, the inventors would have independently acquired data with which to approach potential commercial partners for a TP-funded programme.

  55.  The government's Marine Renewable Deployment Fund of £42 million, aimed at bridging the funding gap for early-stage pre-commercial projects, provides 25% capital grant and a revenue support payment of £100/MWh. However, no developers have yet achieved the minimum qualification of three months continuous operation or six months operation with occasional breaks. We urge the government to be patient and wait for more developers gain the operational experience that will allow them to apply to the fund.

  56.  We would like to see more support for R&D funding into biomass CHP (including cooling) plant in the region of 100kWth—2MWth, where the plant should be capable of providing in the order of 25kWe -500kWe respectively. This size of plant is particularly important in distributed energy on a local scale. At present there is little technology on the market and that which is available is not truly commercialised. Research on opportunities for commercialising biomass CHP at these scales and what can be achieved to reduce the capital costs would be very helpful.

  57.  R&D on emissions from modern biomass systems we believe would also be helpful in dispelling some misconceptions and increase the acceptance this carbon-neutral technology.


  58.  A major benefit would appear to be to facilitate introductions between prospective partners both in the UK and internationally.

  59.  The government, both at national and regional level, already provides incentives for technology transfer between industry and academia. As already stated, marine renewables developers are reluctant to enter into a collaboration that involves sharing of IP or sub-contracting of research work that they are better placed to conduct themselves.


  60.  It is important that we incorporate within the strategic programme those associated technologies required to enable deployment of renewable energy. In addition to intelligent electricity grids, similar consideration should be given to heat networks.

  61.  Associated technologies such as metering and performance displays should also be reviewed as these can make a substantial contribution to accelerating deployment of renewable energy systems.

July 2007

18   Carbon Trust (2006): Future Marine EnergyBack

19   The RO only caters for plant built after 1990, unless it has been refurbished, which is the case for some of the large hydro. Therefore the 1355 figure and the 585 MW in the table cannot be added to give an overall total, as this would result in some double-counting. Back

20   "Our Energy Challenge-DTI's Microgeneration Strategy, March 2006. Back

21   Footnote 8 of EU renewables roadmap says:??????? Back

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