Submission from Royal Academy of Engineering
The Royal Academy of Engineering is pleased
to be able to respond to the House of Commons Science and Technology
Select Committee Inquiry into Renewable Energy-Generation Technologies.
The Royal Academy of Engineering strongly endorses
the Committee's interest in the subject of renewable energy generation
in the UK, but notes that this is an extremely crowded policy
area at present with consultations arising from the May 2007 Energy
White Paper, March 2007 Draft Climate Change Bill and the May
2007 Planning White Paper. Additionally, the number of organisations
involved in researching low-carbon technologies is large. In such
an environment, there is always a danger of effort being duplicated.
In response to the Energy White Paper, the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report, the Draft Climate
Change Bill, the Stern Review and the Energy White Paper, The
Royal Academy of Engineering and the 35 UK engineering institutions,
together representing nearly 250,000 registered engineers and
over 600,000 members, formed a Round Table of industry experts
under the Chairmanship of Lord Browne of Madingley. Their objective
is to provide engineering led advice to Government on the reduction
of greenhouse gas emissions from energy production and usage,
and the sustainability of both.
Such a coming together of the engineering profession
is unprecedented and reflects a conviction that engineering is
essential to the provision of solutions to the urgent challenges
posed by climate change.
Various targets have been set for the stabilisation
of atmospheric CO2. In the UK, these were historically derived
from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's report
Energy, The Changing Climate,
which advocated a 60% reduction in emissions. This was derived
from the then perceived need to stabilise at 550ppm of CO2. However,
this target has, since 2000, become controversial and many experts
have revised their estimates of the required target downwards
to between 450 and 500ppm. The scale of the challenge to deliver
the necessary reductions is such that delivery currently seems
unlikely unless significant new initiatives are taken. Investment
in new technologies and techniques will be required as well as
investment in the engineering workforce expected to deliver and
run these technologies. The most appropriate strategies to ensure
robust, economic and effective actions are far from clear.
It is clear that if a suitable level of stabilisation
of CO2 is to be achieved, the trajectory of CO2
increase needs to be reduced quickly. If there is no significant
global progress by 2025, CO2 levels of 450 to 500ppm
will be unattainable. Given the long economic life of the electricity
generating plant and energy using products that will be contributing
to emissions over that period, the window for action in terms
of designing and deploying low emissions technologies on a sufficiently
large scale is significantly shorter.
Virtually everything that uses energy to function
or to generate power is an engineered product, ranging from mobile
phones to nuclear power plants. Similarly products that reduce
energy demand such as loft insulation, double glazed windows and
heat pumps are also engineered products. From a position of understanding
the processes involved in inventing, developing, designing, producing
and marketing these products, the engineering profession is in
a unique position to advise Government on the practical actions
and priorities required to improve sustainability and energy efficiency,
and to accelerate the development of new energy efficient products
Climate change is a global issue; the atmosphere
cannot be segmented into particular national responsibilities.
However, the technical advances which will make a global impact
will, in all probability, need to be championed by the first world
countries that currently have the highest per capita energy
demand. Demonstrating leadership and a will to tackle climate
change in the World's leading industrialised economies is prerequisite
to catalysing Global action. Achieving UK technical and commercial
leadership in moving towards a low-carbon economy is key to bolstering
the UK's global leadership on climate change issues as well as
underpinning the export potential for UK technologies through
technology transfer to other carbon intensive and fast expanding
The Round Table (see annex 1 for membership)
believes that the engineering profession has a key role to play
in the delivery of the CO2 emission reductions envisaged
in the Stern Review, firstly through the commercialisation and
deployment of technologies in the UK and secondly through the
export of those technologies including the use of the flexible
under the Kyoto Protocol and its successors.
Furthermore, the Round Table believes that a
detailed study should be commissioned that would set out an engineering
led response to the climate change challenge, providing Government
with recommendations that would bring forward the commercialisation
and deployment of emission reducing technologies in a timely and
optimal manner. This would be focused on the timescales for implementation,
maximum impact and lowest abatement costs for reductions in emissions
from energy production and usage.
In the opinion of the Round Table, a number
of technologies show significant potential for near and medium
term reduction in emissions and the proposed study will test the
evidence behind them. Similarly, the Round Table is of the opinion
that certain changes to regulatory and taxation structures could
lead to early or immediate reductions in emissions from energy
production and use throughout the economy as well as setting the
foundations for sustained reductions into the future.
1. THE CURRENT
UK RESEARCH AND
1.1 As well as addressing the state of renewable
technology research in the UK, it should be remembered that a
key product of university research is trained people. The lack
of investment in wind energy research (onshore as well as offshore)
is leading to a shortage of technical specialists entering UK
industry in these important areas of major commercial activity.
As technologies such as tidal stream and fuel cells become commercially
viable, the same lack of trained engineers and technicians in
these fields will become apparent.
1.2 The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC)
has produced an Atlas of UK Energy Research
which provides a concise and updated view of current energy research
in the UK, who the key funders are and where the research is being
conducted. The key outputs from this work are available as landscapes
of roadmaps for the various technologies considered and the Committee
may find these useful in its deliberation.
1.3 In general terms, the Academy would
make the following points about the state of research and development
of key renewable energy-generation technologies within the UK.
1.3.1 Offshore wind energy is significantly
more expensive and risky than onshore wind energy and research
is needed to lower costs and reduce risks. Without this research
the development of offshore wind energy, where the UK is trying
to move forward faster than many other countries, may be delayed.
1.3.2 Tidal stream energy research remains
very fragmented with significant barriers to the development and
dissemination of knowledge, particularly of the resource, arising
from commercial sensitivities of the device developers. This may
be contrasted with the then Department of Energy large wind turbine
programme managed by ETSU in the 1980s. This undertook publicly
funded research and monitoring the results of which were made
publicly available into aspects both of wind turbine performance
and wind resource characterisation. Such a programme gave very
valuable information for the subsequent commercial development
of wind energy and contributed to the establishment of Garrad
Hassan and Partners and Renewable Energy Systems Ltd (both major
UK successes in wind energy).
1.3.3 Wave energy remains at an early stage
of development with no clear device architecture becoming pre-eminent.
The "winner" will only emerge through a process of natural
selection following field trials. Thus a priority is to facilitate
full-scale field trials to increase experience of wave energy
and to accelerate this process.
1.3.4 The key present problem in intelligent
grid management is the "GB queue" of 16 GW of wind energy
applications in Scotland and no mechanism to connect them within
a firm time scale. Other than that particular issue there is a
reasonable consensus of how to proceed up to the 2020 level of
20% of electrical energy from renewables. However research is
now needed for the Grid implications of higher levels of low carbon
generation ie to meet the 60%-80% CO2 reductions by
2050 or the 20% of total energy from renewables. Given the length
of life of transmission and distribution assets and the very high
rates of spend now being sanctioned by OFGEM (which are presently
being expended on like-for-like replacements) this is becoming
an urgent issue. At present, the issues associated with incorporating
distributed distribution in the UK network are limited to wind
energy, but will apply equally to other distributed technologies
such as micro CHP when they become available.
1.3.5 Cost effective energy storage remains
a key goal of energy research. Two major UK initiatives; high
speed flywheels (URENCO) and REDOX flow batteries (Regenesys)
were technically successful and were taken to beyond the prototype
stage. However both manufacturers then withdrew from the market.
It is very difficult to compete with fossil fuels, which store
energy in chemical form, under present market conditions. Research
should be continued on energy storage with the applications focused
on the longer term 2050 ambitions of very deep cuts in CO2
emissions when the very onerous requirements that will be placed
on the power system may allow a commercial case of energy storage
to be developed.
2. THE FEASIBILITY,
2.1 The Academy currently has no properly
researched information to offer on feasibility, costs, timescales
and progress to commercialisation but the collection of this data
will form a key part of the evidence base for the proposed engineering
led study proposed by the Academy and the 35 UK engineering institutions.
2.2 In general terms, the Academy would
endorse a holistic approach to considering the pathways to a low-carbon
economy. In particular, a technology path should be considered
where technologies which become commercially viable early on are
replaced by later generations of technology that have better carbon
footprints and reliability. This is important because investment
in later generations of technologies is less likely to happen
if markets for product have not been established by the earlier
technologies. A good example of this is in the bio-fuels sector
where bio-ethanol derived from corn or sugar beet does not perform
well in terms of carbon footprint but plays an important role
in paving the way to market for lingo-cellulosic ethanol technologies.
3. THE UK GOVERNMENT'S
FUNDING RDD&D FOR
3.1 Research spending on energy has declined
dramatically in the UK since the privatisation of the industry
in the mid-Eighties as can be seen in Figure 1.
ENERGY R&D (PUBLIC) SPEND
3.2 While the fall in R&D spending in
the sector has been significant, it has also become more fragmented,
making the roles of the Energy Research Partnership, Environmental
Transformation Fund and the Energy Technology Institute vital
in coordinating and directing the available funding.
3.3 Given that climate change is such a
high priority concern for the Government, it follows that Government
energy RDD&D spending should not be allowed to decline, but
in fact be increased. The complexity and number of funding organisations
currently in the field also means that best value for money may
net be extracted for the funding available. As the Energy Research
Partnership have recommended, the research landscape for energy
RDD&D should be radically simplified leading to a national
energy research programme consisting of the Research Council Energy
Programme funding early stage university based research, the Energy
Technology Institute funding development programmes and the Environmental
Transformation Fund funding demonstration programmes.
4. OTHER POSSIBLE
4.1 Climate change is now accepted globally
as a real threat, as is the role of anthropogenic CO2
emission in accelerating climate change. It is currently estimated
that atmospheric CO2 levels must be stabilised at 450
to 500 ppm by 2050 in order to restrict global warming to 2°C.
4.2 In order to reach the goal of stabilising
atmospheric CO2 levels, the trajectory of the increase
of CO2 concentrations needs to be reduced urgently
and it is estimated that unless significant results are seen before
2015, then it will be impossible to stabilise at the levels that
climate scientists predict to be required. The logic of this situation
dictates that early and large wins are required that cannot be
attained by diffuse technologies such as wind or still developing
technologies such as tidal stream.
4.3 The urgency of the climate change problem
means that while every effort must be made to develop the renewable
technologies of tomorrow, some large scale carbon avoidance schemes
must be considered now. Such schemes need to be rated at the gigawatt
scale and include the replacement of current nuclear generation
capacity, carbon capture and storage, and schemes such as the
Severn Tidal Barrage.
4.4 It is well known that both nuclear fission
and large tidal barrages carry significant environmental risks
in terms of nuclear waste management and altering the ecology
of tidal estuaries, but the urgency of the need to reduce CO2
emission from the power sector suggests that these potential risks
should now be balanced against the risks of failing to stabilise
atmospheric CO2 at acceptable levels.
4.5 Carbon capture and storage is rightly
being championed by Government as it has the potential to provide
gigawatts of low-carbon electricity generation in the UK as well
as significant export potential for the technology. Public funding
is essential to the large scale demonstration of carbon capture
and storage as the risk profile, capital intensity and current
pre-commercial nature means that industry will be unable to carry
out the required RDD&D themselves. Industry does, however,
have a strong desire to see carbon capture and storage succeed
as a technology and recent developments have shown them willing
to participate in the Government sponsored competition announced
in the 2007 Budget and Energy White Paper. Other areas of research
that must be addressed for carbon capture and storage include
the safe storage of CO2, the infrastructure required to handle
the CO2 and the legal aspects of sub-sea disposal.
5.1 An engineering led response to climate
change involving all of the UK professional engineering institutions
should be commissioned to help inform Government and industry
on the optimal route to a low-carbon economy.
5.2 The number of bodies involved in funding
energy research should be rationalised with oversight provided
by the Energy Research Partnership.
5.3 Government spending on energy RDD&D
should be increased from its current low levels.
129 Energy, The Changing Climate, Royal Commission
on Environmental Pollution, June 2000. Back
Flexible mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol allow Annex 1 signatory
nations (those with binding emissions reduction targets) to claim
credit for emissions reduction projects in other countries: by
emissions trading between Annex 1 nations; by buying credits from
non-Annex 1 nations under the Joint Implementation; or by receiving
credits from non-Annex 1 nations for investing directly in local
emission reduction schemes under the Clean Development Mechanism.
Flexible mechanisms are administered by the United Nations Framework
Convention of Climate Change (http://unfccc.int/2860.php). Back