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

Memorandum 72

Supplementary evidence from the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) following the evidence session on 23 January 2008

  The following comments are in response to some specific questions from the IUS Committee following the evidence session of 23 January 2008.

  With regards to particular R&D needs relevant to undersea cables and offshore renewables, generally speaking the cable requirements of this sector are no different from any other use of offshore power cables, and therefore specific R&D is not necessary. Manufacturers are developing products specific to this market, since the size of cable required is generally larger than for other applications, but this does not entail basic R&D. However, the increase in offshore wind in both number and size of arrays may lend itself to innovative substation and offshore network design. The combining of a North Sea interconnector with the offshore wind transmission is a interesting possibility, but one where a technical solution could be examined. The transmission losses experienced with developing projects further out to sea could be addressed by using a Direct Current (DC) system, but would result in its own technical challenges.

  The potential of the Pentland Firth for tidal stream generation is unquestionably massive: estimates vary as to the proportion of the UK's total tidal stream resource it represents, but it is by far the single most energetic site in this country. It would present some significant practical challenges in exploiting this potential, however. It will take some time to develop the technological solutions for tidal stream power generally, and until this is done it will not be possible to be definitive about the scale of energy production that the Firth will be able to deliver. The Firth is an important navigation route, and hence any tidal generators would have to be carefully sited. The most energetic flow in the Firth is where it is at its deepest, and generators would have to be placed on the sea bed to exploit this: there would be some issues of access to these sites, and due to the strong currents, maintenance might be problematic. Lastly, the challenge of providing significant new grid capacity to the far north of Scotland may limit the amount of energy that can be extracted, or at least considerably delay the time at which full exploitation may be possible.

  None of these issues should be insurmountable, given time; in the long term therefore, the Pentland Firth can be a significant contributor to UK electricity supplies. The Sustainable Development Commission's report "Turning the Tide: Tidal power in the UK"[255] estimated that tidal stream energy could provide 5% of UK power in the long run, including the Pentland Firth: BWEA would regard the SDC's estimate as conservative, though the technical challenges faced in developing this brand new form of energy should not be underestimated.

  The focus of the MRDF on early demonstration multi-device projects has been entirely appropriate. What has been the issue for companies coming forward to take up the Fund has been their ability to fulfill the application criteria, most notably the requirement that full-scale prototypes need to have three months of continuous operation before a technology can access the MRDF. The new report on the subject from the Renewables Advisory Board[256] describes in some detail why there has been this delay, and the Committee should consider its findings. Additional funding for the development of marine technologies up to the point where MRDF funding might be sought would be welcome, but it should be noted that there are also some structural changes that might be just as helpful as more money being made available. The rolling of the MRDF into the Environmental Transformation Fund, and the "banding up" of wave and tidal to 2ROC/MWh under the reform of the Renewables Obligation, give an opportunity to refine the entry criteria and dovetail them more closely with R&D programmes that feed into it. The Committee should also note that marine renewable technology developers need some certainty as to what will be available to them in terms of continued development funding after the MRDF if they are not to enter the "valley of death" referred to in the oral evidence session: each device developer is only allowed one bite at the MRDF cherry, and at the moment there is no support on offer beyond that except for the 2ROC/MWh, which is insufficient to fund post-MRDF development.

  Environmental Impact Assessment can be a significant burden for companies attempting to develop pioneering marine renewables projects. These are small developments, using technologies that are new. The latter feature leads to demands for comprehensive surveying and monitoring to assess what is and is not an issue, which makes them particularly burdensome on pilot projects of one or a handful of devices. A proportional approach by statutory conservation consultees would be welcome to reduce this burden to the absolute minimum required, and extra help from Government in carrying out such surveys and monitoring required would also be very helpful. Other Government departments and bodies, such as BERR, DEFRA, DfT, MoD and the Crown Estate have a direct interest in this area: there are already some pieces of work going on around this subject, bringing these bodies together. A coordinated approach to consenting, and research on consenting, will be beneficial to industry.

  For other renewable technologies, the burden of EIA is less in that the issues are better known, and thus some work can be "scoped out" at an early stage, and projects are bigger, so the EIA work is less as a proportion of project cost. There is still progress that could be made, however, particularly in offshore wind: BWEA is pleased that industry's calls for more urgency in feeding back the conclusions of monitoring required by the Food and Environment Protection Act into the consents process are beginning to be heard. There is an opportunity to develop this further for both current and future projects. BWEA also perceives reluctance in some quarters to accept the results of research into the impacts of offshore wind projects outside the UK, most notably the thorough programme of research conducted around the Horns Rev and Nysted projects in Denmark. Government should seek to include all evidence on impacts in assessing what is required of developers in the EIA process, regardless of where it has been collected. BWEA is pleased, therefore, that the UK is hosting a major scientific conference in June on marine renewable energy and the environment, aimed at sharing data across Europe.[257]

8 February 2008

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