Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 23 JANUARY 2008
Q20 Dr Gibson: Is that supported
by the UK Government?
Professor Wilson: There is some
EPSRC-funded work on the principles. I think that the biggest
problem as always is the gap between making a cell that works
and then making sure that it is manufacturable.
Q21 Dr Iddon: Is not one of the problems
with photovoltaic technology the payback period? When I visited
Woking a few years ago, they were retro-fitting solar panels in
quite a big way on existing buildings and the payback period I
was quoted was 25 years. Is that not one of the difficulties and
is not the real thing that is hindering development of PV technology
the fact that people are waiting for the right technology to come
along? People do not feel confident with the present technologies?
Professor Wilson: You have asked
two questions. The payback time certainly for traditional single
crystal silicone is quite high. I think at the moment people will
quote you about five years; it does depend on the site of course
because it depends how much you are generating. Conventional crystalline
materials and some of the thin-film crystalline materials are
high temperature processes, so they are of course energy expensive.
The thin-film technologies tend to be closer to 18 months, anything
between one year and two years. We have calculated these ourselves
in the past and a number of other people have done it in different
ways and you get similar answers whether you are looking at the
carbon payback or the energy payback. The thin-film technologies
certainly will pay back within their lifetime. The other problem
that you mention, that people are waiting for the winning technology,
is exactly that problem because at the moment we have a rather
intermittent process for encouraging people to mount panels domestically
and it means that somebody will look at the payback time and prefer
to invest their money, though I guess it may change in current
years, but it is very much a problem and there should be much
more encouragement for the experience to be built up by installations.
Mr Wolfe: May I clarify? I think
the figures Professor Wilson was talking about was the energy
payback and I suspect that Dr Iddon was asking about the financial
Q22 Dr Iddon: The fitting, yes.
Professor Wilson: In that case,
yes, you are close to the truth.
Q23 Dr Iddon: Is retro-fitting efficient
or should we be encouraging builders to build in solar panels
from the beginning? When I visited Japan a few years ago, they
were bringing pre-constructed roofs on siteadmittedly,
it is a different building system in Japanand just lowering
them on to the buildings and connecting them up into the system.
Mr Loughhead: Perhaps I could
make a comment on that. It would be much cheaper to install any
of these systems as part of the original build, but you asked
the question about payback and, while I realise that your focus
is on renewable electricity-generation, probably a much better
payback would be obtained at this stage by fitting as original
build solar thermal panels for water heating and similar devices,
and estimates are that that would probably add £1,000 to
£1,500 to the cost of a house as opposed to maybe £6,000
to attempt to retro-fit it.
Q24 Dr Iddon: If we leave Japan on
one side, in Europe, Germany are certainly ahead of most countries
in PV technology. You can go and see acres of solar panels in
fields in Germany. Why do you think Germany is ramping ahead of
all other European countries, especially this one?
Dr Edge: It is outside of my technology
areas but, frankly, they have thrown a lot of money at it in a
very conscious attempt to build an industry and I think that is
something that you need to take away here. We have not supported
our indigenous generation technologies in such a way that we have
built an industry around this and, if we are to meet our 20% target,
our share of it which I expect to be about 15% overall, we will
have to focus much more on how we build an industry to deliver
it. Otherwise, if we compete with other countries for the technologies
and the equipment like wind turbines, we will likely lose.
Q25 Dr Iddon: So, it is nothing to
do with the availability of the sun in the south of Germany?
Dr Edge: No.
Mr Wolfe: It is a lot to do with
the availability of feed-in tariffs in Germany.
Chairman: We are going to come back to
Q26 Dr Iddon: Is it not something
to do with the Green Party?
Mr Wolfe: The Green Party were
instrumental in getting the feed-in tariff introduced, yes.
Dr Iddon: They have decided not to go
nuclear, so they have had to do something else instead. Does politics
not come into this?
Chairman: Dr Edge, I think that is the
point you made, is it not? It does require a government very strongly
to support which is what has happened in Germany.
Q27 Dr Iddon: Recently, I attended
a very interesting seminar on the use of mirrors in the desert
to collect solar energy and heating a large tank of water, generating
steam and electricity in the usual way. There is a proposal for
a European network coming out of the Sahara and other deserts
and California has a working plant and I understand that Algeria
has a working plant. Professor Wilson, is this going to overtake
use of the sun through traditional PV technology?
Professor Wilson: Yes. I believe
that there is a working plant in Spain for the same sort of principle,
obviously it must be in direct sunlight. I am not sure.
Probably the energy payback time is quite attractive. It is a
central facility of course, so in some ways utilities would prefer
that because they know how to manage the supply of electricity
into the network. However, I do not think that there are sufficient
sites at the moment. There is always the sensitivity of supply
if it were to be coming from as far away as Africa of course and
I am not sure if the economics are very much better for the net
Chairman: I am going to move on. I am
anxious to get in as much as we can in the time we have allowed.
Q28 Dr Turner: I would like to ask
you about your feelings on the timescale for the major deployment
of marine energy devices, whether wave or tidal or tidal stream.
There have been various estimates of ten to 15 years. It clearly
is dependent on policy background as well. May I have your comments
on what we can realistically achieve with marine technologies
in the next ten to 15 years.
Mr Loughhead: I think that maybe
Gordon and Philip should have a crack at this.
Dr Edge: Our estimate of what
is achievable by 2020 is in the region of 1,500 megawatts of wave
and tidal stream all together. Philip alluded earlier to the fact
that we have a world-leading technology here in the UK and I think
that is absolutely true, but I think that we are in dire danger
of losing that if we do not act now to take steps to move the
support for these technologies much further and much faster. At
the moment, we have the marine renewables deployment fund which,
due to various issues, has not yet been taken up fully, but what
we really do not have is anything beyond that and what technology
developers are seeing is this valley of death beyond the MRDF
in which they see no support sufficient to get them through to
full-scale commercial deployment and that is a great fear. If
we do not take the steps like they have just recently in Ireland
where they have been establishing a feed-in tariff of 220 euros
per megawatt hour for wave and tidal then we will miss out on
Mr Wolfe: I think that is a very
comprehensive answer. It is vital that we do not do to our marine
renewables industry what, sadly, we did to the wind industry in
the early 1990s and actually lose the world leadership because
we did not adequately incentivise the, if you like, pre-commercial
Q29 Dr Turner: So, it is fair to
say that this is not so much a technology issue as a policy issue.
Mr Wolfe: That is definitely the
Mr Loughhead: I think it is important
to briefly add to that that everybody is quite right to say that
the UK has a world lead, but it would be wrong to believe that
this is currently at a fully commercially developed stage. I think
it is very important to accept that. Although there are devices
in the water, it is still a long way from saying, "Here is
the finished product".
Q30 Chairman: Gordon's comment is
right, is it not? Without that investment, we are never going
to get to that.
Mr Loughhead: Exactly.
Q31 Chairman: The valley of death
Mr Loughhead: Yes.
Q32 Dr Turner: The Royal Society
of Edinburgh is a great fan of tidal barrages and they would like
to see a system in the Pentland Firth and a barrage on the Severn
Estuary. What is your view on the validity of proposals such as
the Severn barrage? Is it going to be either economically or technologically
viable, never mind the environmental consequences of it?
Mr Wolfe: Technologically viable,
we believe clearly so. The two issues really, as you suggest,
are the environmental issue and the economic one. I will begin
with the environmental issues. I do think that it is appropriate
now to reassess the type of projects that historically we have
not been prepared to undertake because of the local environmental
consequences. Now that we have a much better view of the, if you
like, global environmental consequences of not doing that. So,
the balancing act between the greater good of a much higher penetration
of renewables compared to the prospective local disadvantages
of projects does need to be reassessed now and, in our view, this
goes beyond just tidal barrages as well. It may well affect potential
large-scale hydro-generation in Scotland. Some sites that have
not been developed because of the local environmental issues maybe
need reassessing on the same basis. The question of economics
clearly is a different one. The SDC suggested that the Severn
barrage would need to be funded by the Government and that clearly
is one approach. Certainly, it would be a very major cost to undertake
a project of that sort of scale and it is questionable whether
existing commercial funding models will actually be able to deliver
Q33 Dr Turner: Philip, your Association
has stated that the UK has about 50% of Europe's tidal resource
and certainly as a sailor I know this. Britain has probably the
best and strongest tidal resources of virtually any country in
the world. How much of this energy source is potentially exploitable
for electricity generation? Can you name the global potential
Mr Wolfe: Yes. It is not massive.
In the context of UK electricity, it is probably only a few per
cent, 2 or 3% in total, and that refers to tidal stream energy,
that is the turbines on the base of the sea of the type that is
now being installed at Strangford Lough, for example. Obviously,
the potential for tidal barrages is very much greater; it has
been estimated that the Severn barrage can deliver 5% of our electricity
and the barrages in Liverpool Bay, for example, could also generate
quite significant contributions. So, the total contribution available
from tidal is up in the 10 to 15% area. Of that, a smaller proportion
from tidal stream, tidal stream of course having rather less environmental
downsides, a larger proportion from tidal barrages.
Q34 Dr Turner: Has anyone actually
undertaken a proper study of the potential tidal stream resource?
I have to say that I find your estimates on the low side.
Mr Wolfe: The have been studies
carried out and I am aware that one is published on the BERR website.
Whether or not those stand up in the light of recent technology
is questionable. Most of the studies that were carried out were
done some years ago and it may well be that, with new technology,
the figures could be increased.
Dr Edge: I think it is important
to point out that the tidal stream resource is extremely concentrated
in very few places: areas like the Channel Islands, around Anglesey
and in particular in the Pentland Firth. If you are talking about
exploiting those kinds of areas, you have to build the infrastructure
to them. Pentland Firth would be extremely challenging, it being
right in the north of Scotland.
Q35 Dr Turner: That is a grid problem.
Dr Edge: It is a grid problem
but it is a practical barrier to the full implementation of tidal
stream energy. I would agree. I would refer back to the SDC report
which said that 5% of our electricity from tidal stream is a feasible
Q36 Dr Turner: What is your view
of the relative stage of development of wave and tidal-stream
Dr Edge: To each other?
Q37 Dr Turner: To each other and
to the commercial frontier.
Mr Wolfe: This is more of a personal
view but I would say that arguably wave power is slightly more
advanced at the moment. There has been more work done; there will
be more devices in the water. Having said that, I believe wave
power is inherently rather more difficult in that you have to
design machines for environments that have energy several orders
of magnitude bigger than they are designed to produce power in
whereas tidal stream is a relatively benign environment, you are
dealing with plus or minus 10%. My suspicion is that tidal stream
might actually advance faster than wave power and my personal
guess would be that tidal stream may well be delivering more to
the grid faster than wave is in this country.
Chairman: I am going to leave that there
and move on.
Q38 Mr Cawsey: Now is the time for
some hot air and wind! Earlier, it was said that it was important
to build an industry around research and development and, as far
as wind is concerned, the UK's turbine suppliers source many of
the components from outside of the UK. Do you think that this
is an area in which the UK should focus on technology procurement
rather than providing research funding?
Dr Edge: It is certainly true
to say that onshore wind particularly is quite technologically
mature and therefore the contribution of the UK at the R&D
level is going to be relatively limited and we are into therefore
the areas of industrial policy and looking to encourage companies
in the UK, the manufacturing industry, into making components
for large-scale wind turbines and therefore bringing in foreign
investment to make turbinesassemble them here which is
what we have missed out so far because we have not yet had a consistent
market which we are now starting to have. When it comes to offshore
wind, there are many technological innovations, particularly ones
that we can transfer across from the offshore oil and gas industry
which need to be done and where there is a definite need for UK
R&D and innovation funding to support.
Q39 Mr Cawsey: This question might
be more for Dr Edge again and perhaps Mr Wolfe. How realistic
is John Hutton's ambition to deploy 33 gigawatts of offshore power
by 2020? Is there sufficient funding available to support technology
development on this scale?
Dr Edge: I think that we need
to understand what that 33 gigawatt figure is, which is the eight
gigawatts on the round two site awards plus potential further
25 gigawattsthe exact numbers are to be decided in terms
of how many more sites will be given out to developers after a
strategic environmental assessment which will be carried out this
year and the site award process will be started next year. What
we are seeing is the start of a process which could allow people
to develop sites which could be built in that timescale and what
will actually be built in that time is another matter. We have
been talking about a figure of 20,000 megawatts of delivered projects.
We are very glad that the Government have come out with a higher
figure because it gives us something extra to aim for. We think
that in terms of building out feasibly in that time, 20,000 megawatts
is ambitious but achievable, and it will certainly need extra
support in terms of expanding on the Renewables Obligation or
adding another mechanism which will allow large-scale offshore
wind to be developed at scale.
Mr Wolfe: I would encourage you
to work to the BWEA figures in terms of deployable offshore wind
resource and, as Dr Edge suggested, the figure that was widely
quoted in the press was not necessarily a deployment figure, it
was a total potential figure, but we would agree that 20 gigawatts
is a realistic figure.
Dr Edge: I think I should also
point out that we could be getting into the 33 gigawatt figures
with a further build out beyond 2020 into the late 2020s because
we are looking at, by the time we get to 2020, delivering about
3,000 megawatts a year. If we continue at that level, that is
a very encouraging and tempting market for the supply chain to
1 Note from the witness: "According to
interest rates". Back
Note from the witness: "I am not sure if it is operating