Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  Q40  Dr Turner: Is there going to be a problem with the ability of the turbine manufacturing industry to simply supply on that scale? I know that at the moment there is a shortage of actual turbines and that people are having to wait a long time for them which is holding up developments. If we are going to expand the scale to that extent, can the industry support it at the moment?

  Dr Edge: We obviously recognise that this is an issue. Certainly right now, there are very severe limits on what can be done. We surveyed our members both on the development side and the manufacturing side to see the mismatch between supply and demand and what might happen in the future and we worked out that, by 2015, the limits on supply would maybe keep us to around 6,000 megawatts of offshore wind but, by that time, instead of the two major turbine manufacturers that are in the market, we would have maybe seven or eight and they would be able to produce enough turbines to be meeting the demand at that time. Beyond then, eight years down the line, that is plenty of time and there is plenty of time to develop the new turbines and have new people come into the field. We have plenty of engineering companies which have the expertise that could come into the field specifically offshore because there are different challenges offshore to onshore. We think that there are plenty of opportunities and plenty of people coming into the market who see it as attractive.

  Q41  Dr Turner: Do you see a technical issue in offshore as opposed to onshore because, at the moment, onshore wind turbines are essentially the same turbines stuck on a pole in the sea? Is there any scope for technological variation in the marine turbine?

  Dr Edge: Absolutely. I have seen plenty of alternative concepts being put about. The difficulty is then the time and the expense of bringing those into commercial reality and that is a five/seven year period and it is many millions of pounds.

  Q42  Mr Marsden: Dr Edge, taking the Secretary of State's projection of the 33 gigawatts, is it possible to give any estimate of the amount of marine area that might be required to achieve that?

  Dr Edge: It will be in the thousands of square kilometres.

  Q43  Mr Marsden: I ask that question because obviously there are a number of exploratory applications out for the Irish Sea and that is already raising environmental and other issues there. My colleague Dr Turner spoke earlier and we were given some priority areas for wave sites, but are there particular priority areas which might prove particularly fruitful for offshore wind farms?

  Dr Edge: This is what the strategic environmental assessment which the Government will be taking on this year for offshore wind will be identifying—

  Q44  Mr Marsden: Do you have any views on it?

  Dr Edge: Certainly I know that a number of my members are eying the Dogger Bank quite carefully because that is a very large area of shallow sea in the middle of the North Sea which could be extremely interesting because there are fewer conflicts with other sea users. It could be a staging post to interconnect through to the European mainland which would be very important in accepting a large amount of variable wind power on to our, and the mainland European, system.

  Q45  Mr Marsden: Mr Wolfe, we are expecting this week the new EU Statement on Targets which are expected to be quite demanding is probably the right word to use.

  Mr Wolfe: It will be later today.

  Mr Marsden: How do you think these targets impact on the Secretary of State's declared ambition to deploy 33 gigawatts by 2020?

  Q46  Chairman: Briefly, Philip, because I am desperately looking at the time.

  Mr Wolfe: They make it important to do that and a whole lot more as well. The target for the UK is likely to be in the range of 15-16%. The White Paper published last year points out that current policy will take us to about 5% by 2020, so we have only a third of what we need in policy terms to achieve the target.

  Q47  Mr Cawsey: You said earlier that wind technology is the mature technology, yet actually has the development of it which has been rolled out across the UK in recent years not been a little disappointing? What do you think have been the major obstacles in it not going further than it has?

  Dr Edge: It has absolutely nothing to do with the technology and everything to do with our very sclerotic planning system and difficulties in getting the grid developed to accept all the power that we might want it to. There is 7,500 megawatts of onshore wind in the planning system being held up by the planning regime. That is the stuff that is stopping its build.

  Q48  Graham Stringer: As you move to a greater percentage of electricity generated by wind power, is it not the experience of other countries that this leads to instability in the grid?

  Dr Edge: The short answer is "no". A great deal of the propaganda that has been put out by some people that says that the grid is very unstable is simply propaganda. If you go to somewhere like Spain where they are already getting 10% of their electricity from wind, there are no issues—

  Q49  Graham Stringer: I was thinking more of the experience in Denmark and Ireland.

  Dr Edge: They have not had any grid—

  Q50  Graham Stringer: Are you saying categorically that switching between wind power and the rest of the system when the wind stops blowing does not produce instability to the grid?

  Dr Edge: It is a management issue which they have managed to cope with without having failures in supply.

  Q51  Graham Stringer: So, it is a problem when you say that—

  Dr Edge: It is an issue, it is not a problem. It is manageable.

  Q52  Graham Stringer: It is somewhere between an "issue" and "problem".

  Dr Edge: It is not a problem in that it can be managed and it is managed. Therefore, it is not a problem; it is merely one of planning and coping with.

  Mr Wolfe: To add to that, it is an issue that needs serious consideration and, while I totally agree with what Gordon said, we should not underestimate the need to prepare for it appropriately.

  Q53  Graham Stringer: This is fascinating! Can you refer the Committee to any papers on this that we can look to in order to define whether it is a problem or not.

  Dr Edge: There is a link in my written submission.

  Mr Loughhead: There are a number of publications which relate to some of that but I think it would be fair to say that it deserves further consideration. For example, Denmark uses the very strong grids of Sweden and Germany to balance its power and the problems it has experienced has been when those have not been available. That does not say that it is an insuperable problem, it means that the solution they have adopted has certain limitations that were experienced when connectors went down and things like that.

  Q54  Dr Gibson: Is Scotland ahead of England in any way in all this? I keep seeing things about Lockerbie with biomass and I hear about Pentland Firth and wind and wave studies. Is it true?

  Professor Wilson: I believe we have had in a sense an unfair advantage in the hydro schemes of course which have given us a good start and there is certainly further capacity for increased hydro, but I think that in the research as well we are punching well above our weight in the marine and the PV and in grid handling.

  Q55  Dr Gibson: I am interested in biomass crops. Do you think that we have enough land available for that or will that hold us up?

  Professor Wilson: I think that is a serious problem. It is not so much in the UK the competition between food crops and fuel crops, I think it is a matter of how much highland land which is not food-producing land could be developed into more of a biofuel. It is locally very important.

  Mr Wolfe: This was studied in some depth by the Biomass Task Force led by Sir Ben Gill and he concluded that, if the biomass were deployed as heat rather than electricity, it would produce 7% of the heat of the UK.

  Q56  Dr Gibson: So we will import it. What is the problem?

  Mr Wolfe: The biomass?

  Q57  Dr Gibson: Yes. We will import it from England—

  Mr Wolfe: Or from Latvia or from Canada. There is quite a lot of biomass importing already going on.

  Q58  Dr Gibson: What is the disadvantage of the importing in terms of energy consumption?

  Mr Loughhead: The disadvantage generally is that biomass has a lower energy density than conventional fossil fuels and therefore the transport can impose quite a strong additional energy consumption on to the system.

  Professor Wilson: I think that even locally in Scotland there is a problem between big producers able to supply it at a cheaper rate locally than the smaller producers, so there is not a great deal of encouragement for new producers to start because of the transport costs.

  Q59  Dr Gibson: Where have we got to with micro-algae and hydrogen? Is it hopeful?

  Mr Loughhead: Early stage research.

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