Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
WEDNESDAY 23 JANUARY 2008
Q1 Chairman: I welcome our first
panel of witnesses to this our first oral evidence session on
an inquiry into renewable electricity-generation technologies
and welcome to the Committee Professor John Wilson, the Science
Board of the Institute of Physicswelcome to you, JohnJohn
Loughhead, the Executive Director of the UK Energy Research Centrewelcome
to you, JohnDr Gordon Edge, the Director of Economics and
Markets at the British Wind Energy Associationwelcome to
you, Gordonand finally to Philip Wolfe, the Chief Executive
of the Renewable Energy Association. I would ask you, John, if
you would chair your panel if it gets unruly, so you can allocate
the most appropriate member of your panel to answer.
Mr Loughhead: With great pleasure,
Q2 Chairman: We have three-quarters
of an hour for this first session, so I would appreciate it if
your answers were as brief as possible and clearly to the point.
I would like to begin with you, John. We are a little unclear
about the targets which the Government have set. 20% cent of energy
from renewables by 2020 and Europe has set a similar target by
2020. How much electricity will need to be generated by renewables
by 2020 on both the British and the European targets so we know
exactly what we are talking about in our discussions this morning?
Give us those figures.
Mr Loughhead: If we assume that
the UK adopts the target of 20%and it is likely that it
will be slightly less than that but if we take 20% as a pointit
is likely that that will mean that the UK would need to generate
between 35 and 40% of its electricity from renewables. The reason
for that is that technically it is much less possible to implement
renewables in the other sectors of heat and transport in that
Q3 Chairman: Is there any statistical
research evidence that backs up your 35 to 40%?
Mr Loughhead: There have been
some calculations which have been performed both by the European
Commission as to European scale and also by some initial work
that has been done by BERR and by ourselves for the UK level.
This is not yet complete, so we cannot state that that is a definitive
figure, but the indications are the figures that I gave earlier.
Q4 Chairman: As far as our Committee
is concerned, we are better looking at 35 to 40% of electricity
generated from renewables to meet those targets than concentrating
Mr Loughhead: Yes.
Q5 Chairman: Do you all agree with
that, Panel? You are looking puzzled, Phil.
Mr Wolfe: Notwithstanding the
remit of this Committee perhaps, I think it is important to remember
that we need to expect a contribution from renewable heat and
renewables in transport as well and, in a way, it is not always
helpful to look at these in silos.
Q6 Chairman: We are looking specifically
at renewable electricity-generation technologies, so it is about
Mr Wolfe: Yes, but it is important
to remember that there are interfaces between these. If you look
at renewables in buildings, for example, you can apply heat pumps.
Heat pumps consume electricity but generate heat. So, the different
technologies are not always readily entirely separated in the
way you are perhaps suggesting.
Q7 Chairman: But you would accept
that that does not take us away from the overall targets?
Mr Wolfe: No, certainly we would
accept that the overall target for electricity will have to be
in the high 30s.
Chairman: Just for the record, I notice
that Professor Wilson and Dr Edge agreed with the statement.
Q8 Dr Turner: Looking at these targets,
we already knowand I think you, Phil, would be the first
to acknowledgethat the target to which we have been working
and have accepted over the last two or three years of 20% electrical
renewables by 2020 is already looking more than challenging enough
at least under business as usual conditions. What is your view
of the attainability of the much higher target that the EU overall
energy target implies and can you outline the sort of measures
that we would need to take to drive the game to the level that
would be needed to achieve that?
Mr Wolfe: We believe the higher
target is attainable but only if, as your question suggests, we
extend the policy measures into areas which historically we have
not addressed. So, historical policy drivers for renewables have
been fundamentally in the centralised electricity, the merchant
electricity generation area, through the Renewables Obligation
and similar measures and we feel that those measures will need
to be strengthened to achieve rather more than the 20% that historically
has been aimed for. We think it is fundamental that policy now
starts to address areas that historically have not really had
a focus and that includes particularly things like renewables
in buildings through on-site energy generation, both heat and
electricity as I suggested earlier on, looking at the contribution
of renewables in sectors like agriculture through anaerobic digestion,
the processing of waste and biomass fuels into biogas that can
then be used for electricity generation but also for other technologies.
It is achievable provided that we widen the policy portfolio.
We do feel in particular that it is not going to be delivered
entirely by the energy sector and that we will need to bring other
users into the market and that includes corporate energy users,
the large supermarket chains, for examplethe large corporates
are now looking at their energy profile and the contribution they
can makeand also the individual, the consumer in their
house and, to bring him into the fold, you probably need a whole
new type of incentive measure and the one that has been proven
to be most effective has been feed-in tariffs.
Q9 Chairman: I will come back to
feed-in tariffs later. Dr Edge, you may want to come in here.
I am particularly interested in this basic question as to whether
we do in fact have the renewables at the moment in order to meet
today's very advanced targets.
Dr Edge: This 20% target has very
much pushing our policy agenda at BWEA and we have been looking
very carefully at what we think is feasible from our technologies,
which include wave and tidal stream in that time. We believe that,
from onshore wind specifically, 1,300 megawatts is an achievable
targetin fact, if some of the planning constraints were
lifted, it could be more than that, that could be a conservative
figurewhich would produce about 10% of our electricity
and we are currently at about 2,000 megawatts onshore now. Offshore,
with a really big push, we could be getting in excess of 20,000
megawatts which would be producing about 17% of our electricity
and the very welcome announcement from the Secretary of State
on 10 December for a new round of sites which would facilitate
that kind of growth is extremely welcome. It would need, as I
have set out in our written evidence, a number of innovations
on the technology side but also on the policy side to reach that
20,000 megawatts of offshore wind considering that there is only
about 400 megawatts now and only just over 1,000 megawatts globally
of offshore wind.
Q10 Graham Stringer: When you were
quoting 13 megawatts, is that total capacity?
Dr Edge: Gigawatts.
Q11 Graham Stringer: Is that total
capacity and you are not feeding into that a load factor for when
the wind does not blow, are you?
Dr Edge: The 10% of electricity
is electrical energy production and that includes a load factor
for that. That would be the electricity energy generation from
those 13,000 megawatts.
Q12 Dr Turner: You are assuming a
higher name plate capacity?
Dr Edge: No, 13,000 megawatts
of name plate capacity at around 30% load factor would produce
the electricity that is 10% of our electricity.
Q13 Dr Gibson: What is the variation
on that? You have obviously done some calculations. What is the
variation plus or minus?
Dr Edge: You would have a variation
of somewhere in the region of 10%.
Q14 Chairman: Professor Wilson, I
am anxious to bring you in. Is that really the answer? This is
just an opening salvo. Is the answer to go through to known technologies
and to concentrate on those over the next 12 years or would we
be better looking at longer term technologies that could perhaps
give far better payback in plus 2020?
Professor Wilson: I think that
that is the problem. It takes so long to develop the newer technologies
that we have to be doing that in parallel. I think it is essential
for the year of 2030, if you look another 10 years on, when I
think that, by that time, we would have to look at resource limit
as well. At the present time, I think the figures show that we
can do it by developing what we already know about the alternatives,
especially maybe for the photovoltaics which are perhaps the most
technically demanding. There is no doubt that, as we go into 2030
and beyond, solar is probably the only resource that is available
without having severe environmental problems and resource limitations
of fuel and that means that we really have to start developing
that much sooner because the principles that will be needed to
develop the efficient and low-cost solar cells are really only
just coming on to the scientific scene now.
Q15 Chairman: John, from the point
of the UK Energy Research Centre, are there technologies which
the UK is a market leader in where the Prime Minister should be
saying, "Really put all your eggs in this basket because
this is going to be a winner and it will be a global winner"?
Mr Loughhead: I think our view
would be that there will not be a single answer to this question,
that it will require a portfolio of different technologies. As
far as the UK is concerned, I believe that, in terms of the manufacture
and design technologies, it would be difficult to say that we
were a clear market leader at an international scale at any of
these. I believe that, in terms of designing systems for use and
installation, which is an equally important area, we probably
have a much stronger position because of the experience gained
within the UK over the last 15 years and I think it is important
to say that, on the research and development front, the UK remains
world competitive in its research and development capability in
all of the relevant technologies.
Mr Wolfe: I think that we can
genuinely claim world leadership in the marine renewable technologies,
wave and tidal technologies. Yes, they are at a relatively early
stage of development but the UK definitely has a world leadership
position in that and it is important that we maintain that.
Q16 Chairman: What about things like
Bristol's Space Planes who report that SSP has the potential to
provide virtually unlimited clean power? We have the sun producing
all this amazing amount of power. Surely we should be risk takers
here, should we not?
Mr Loughhead: I am not sure that
I fully understand the question. We all accept that all the power
ultimately comes from the sun but which specific application?
Q17 Chairman: Bristol Space Planes
report that SSP has the potential to provide virtually unlimited
clean power which is capturing energy in space and then beaming
it down, as I understand it.
Mr Loughhead: Right. I am going
to suggest that John answers that.
Professor Wilson: I am aware that
this used to be known as the "Glaser Amazer" from Peter
Glaser in the United States who first proposed a similar satellite
collection. Certainly, it is a proposal of course that you generate
the power where it is not intermittent to the same extent and
then you beam it down in laser beam or microwave power. The big
problem is always the energy payback and energy consumption of
course, calculating carefully the amount of energy investment
needed to put that sort of thing into place and then the lifetime.
I think at the moment we are not looking for such a desperate
measure although it would still drive solar cell development and
to a certain extent storage and transmission, but there are a
lot of technologies that should be driven on further by that time
Mr Wolfe: I am not aware that
the technology of beaming it down without frying people on the
way is yet fully developed.
Chairman: We will leave that.
Q18 Dr Iddon: I want to pursue PV
technology a little further. We have the traditional silicon PV
technology and firms now like Nanosolarand I quote them
as an exampleare developing a thin-film technology, crystals
of silicon on aluminium foil backing. Which of these is the most
efficient and which might win out in the end, Professor Wilson?
Professor Wilson: There is no
doubt at the moment that the crystal technologies produce the
better efficiencies. Some of the thin-film technologies are producing
similar efficiencies for the modules, that is for the cells fully
mounted as a useable unitthey are getting closerbut
it is a trade-off between efficiency and cost, and the important
thing is perhaps not the peak efficiency but the cost per watt
hour which then has to include the balance of systems, the transmission
and maybe storage, invertors and so on. What appears to be interesting
is that, if you project even ten years and certainly 20 years,
at the moment there is not a big difference in what you achieve
for the cost of a unit of electricity whether you go for a very
high efficient costly cell or a lower efficiency cheaper cell.
It depends of course on the site. Obviously with a lower efficiency
cell you need much more space and space may be more expensive.
It seems that there is not a big change there in what you are
paying. The thin-film technologies are the ones that Britain is
probably beginning to lead in some areas and it certainly has
a strong scientific position and I certainly would say that I
have an own interest in that we are trying to develop solar cells
on textiles and trying to get away from the idea that photovoltaics
are complicated micro-electronic devices. We would rather see
them as something closer to painting walls.
Q19 Dr Gibson: Where does nano-technology
fit into all this in terms of UK initiatives?
Professor Wilson: There are some
interesting proposalsthe science is looking fairly robust
and the technology is not yet therewhich allows you to
use nano particles in a new way with the organic solar cells,
that is the plastic solar cells, which we are hoping will of course
produce the answer. If you are using organic solar cells, then
there are some new ideas using nano particles that will enable
them to overcome the problem of actually collecting the electrical
charges in the device.