Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Scottish Energy Environment Foundation

  The Scottish Energy Environment Foundation (SEEF) is an independent organisation that has been set up to create an internationally significant centre of excellence in energy and related environmental technologies and assist the development of commercial opportunities in these areas.

  It is funded through support from the Scottish Executive, Scottish Enterprise, British Energy, Scottish and Southern Energy, and Scottish Power and has academic partners in Edinburgh and Strathclyde Universities. Although able to draw on information and expertise within these organisations it operates independently from all of the partners.

  Within the area of policy development its purpose to act as a credible commentator and highlight the issues of importance whilst balancing the vested commercial interets of any particular developer/sector or organisation with those of another. It is developing a wide membership that ranges from utilities and developers of conventional and renewable energy systems to academics, planners, SMEs and local authorities.

  Through acting as a facilitator, SEEF is a resource base, attracting EU and research funding, as well as helping new initiatives to access venture capital. From a strong policy and technology base it provides authoritative advice on energy and the environment for demand and supply-side issues, as well as contributing to the development of a Scottish energy policy.

  Within the framework of the inquiry into wave and tidal energy, the activities listed above are relevant to the Committee. The Scottish Energy Environment Foundation is not directly associated with any wave/tide energy developers but is able to provide a considered response on this topic, with a particular (and relevant) focus on issues in Scotland.


  1.  Development of the electricity supply system in the UK has taken place over more than 100 years. At present, the challenges faced demand a response that is implemented within the next decade.

  2.  Environmental considerations are becoming the key driver in the development of energy issues. Keeping a focus on the longer-term issues has to become the priority if the Government is committed to combating the effects of climate change and developing a viable UK electricity mix.

  3.  With changes in the method and location of electricity generation, the existing system has certain constraints. The majority of existing power stations are unlikely to be operating in 50 years time, so there is a tremendous opportunity to educate and promote development within a new skills base, new technologies and infrastructure.

  4.  There is a large potential resource for wave and tidal energy in the UK, but serious consideration must be given to the level of exploitation that is envisioned.

  5.  The majority of the resource for wave and tidal energy is at a considerable distance from the population. Significant strengthening of the grid will be required if this resource is to be made available beyond the local supply level.

  6.  Transmission loss charges will need to be addressed if existing generation sources are not to be disadvantaged by zonal charging practices.

  7.  A skills base exists within the UK to support the development of wave and tidal energy but it is in decline. Education and (re)training programmes must be developed to maintain current expertise in this area.

  8.  If policy decisions in this area are to be effectively implemented, the consultees must include all those stakeholders who operate in the marine environment.


  1.  It has taken over a century of growth and development in the UK electricity industry to achieve a safe, stable and regulated industry that meets the supply and demand requirements of the nation.

  2.  Although developed primarily on the abundant coal reserves of the UK, the electricity industry diversified into gas-fired generation, nuclear power and large-scale hydroelectricity driven by security of supply. Planning and development was based on economic issues that also dictated technology choices, and global warming and climate change were still considered as academic research. Little account was taken of local environmental issues beyond statutory planning and operation requirements.

  3.  The national grid transmission and supply system and associated electricity generation capacity therefore evolved over a long period of time in order to meet Government energy policy. With a rapidly changing focus on methods of generation that under consideration, there needs to be a strategic approach that will take account of both the future requirements of technology and infrastructure within a UK energy mix, and recognise the constraints (or opportunities) of the existing system.

  4.  Development of the renewable resource cannot be considered in isolation from the issues listed above, and the paragraphs below expand on these in more detail.


  5.  The increasing importance of environmental issues at the local and global scale is now the key to future development. Climate change is recognised as one of the most serious environmental threats facing the world today and emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the burning of fossil fuels is acknowledgd as the largest contributor.

  6.  Under the Kyoto agreement the UK has a target to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5 per cent from 1990 levels by the year 2010. The Government believes that the UK will benefit from moving beyond its Kyoto target over the same period of time, and have an additional national target to reduce emissions of CO2 to 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010.

  7.  Over the last decade, a switch from coal to gas fired generation encouraged by low gas prices, combined with an increase in the output from nuclear power stations has reduced CO2 emissions within the electricity sector, making savings against other sectors. However, the UK's total CO2 emissions are forecast to begin rising again after 2000 even under a moderate growth in electricity demand. Large increases in emissions from the electricity sector are forecast when current nuclear power stations are decommissioned, unless they can be replaced by other low-carbon technologies (see appendix 1).

  8.  The recent report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution has highlighted the issue that a 20 per cent reduction target for CO2 emissions is likely to be only the first step on an increasingly more stringent path to a bigger cut—perhaps 60 per cent or more—that will be needed globally throughout this century and beyond if we are to avoid the devastating effects of climate change.

  9.  The developed world needs to demonstrate to developing countries that it is possible to break the link between economic growth and rising emissions, thereby helping to achieve sustaintable development. This would start the transition to the low carbon economy that will be needed in the longer term if the CO2 levels in the atmosphere are to be stabilised.


  10.  The UK electricity transmission and distribution system was developed to receive the generation output of large power stations (primarily coal, oil and gas fired stations) transmit this to the centres of demand across the country, and then distribute it amongst the local users on that network in order to supply their demands. The fuel source was transported to the power station, and the flow of electricity generated was from a strong central point (the grid) to a weaker periphery.

  11.  The development of grid-linked renewable generation capacity on a large scale therefore has some constraints placed upon it. Unlike the existing conventional power stations renewable generation has to be sited in the location with the optimal resource (wave, tidal, wind etc), which is often far from the centres of demand and at the periphery of a weak electricity supply system (where it exists). The further one moves away from the optimal resource location the higher the generation costs become. Additionally, the transmission of electricity over long distances incurs a transmission loss and there are charges for access to, and the use of the distribution and transmission networks that must be borne by the developer/operator of the site, and the electricity supply company for that area. The intermittent nature of the supply from some renewable generation also puts it at a disadvantage with the New Electricity Trading Arrangements (NETA) under which fluctuating supply attracts a penalty.


  12.  The status of the grid transmission system for Scotland in 1993 is shown in appendix 2. Given there has been only minor development of this system in the intervening period it is still a good illustration of the key issue for wave and tidal energy development in Scotland.

  13.  If the UK is to fully exploit the potential of the wave and tidal resource in Scotland then significant improvement to the grid supply infrastructure is required. To supply the large centres of demand located outside of Scotland, 400kv transmission lines will have to be developed to the north and western coasts, and connected into the existing systems. Connections to the offshore islands will also need development through sub-sea cables in order to be able to receive the output from developments sited in these areas and link them into the grid.

  14.  Even if wave and tidal energy is developed on a small scale, the location in which the resource is optimal has a very dispersed local population with a weak distribution network. Placing generating capacity in these areas and linking into the local supply network can cause network problems or require costly strengthening. A 500kW wave device is located on the Island of Islay off the west coast of Scotland is the first commercial wave device in the world to operate, yet only 150kW of the output can be used due to the weak grid link. A recent study in the Highlands and Islands region of Scotland highlighted that an investment of £200 million would be required to allow development renewable (wind) generation in this region.


  15.  When electricity is transmitted on the national grid system over long distances there are losses incurred as a result of the physical laws that govern the voltage, current and resistance. Where the grid system is operating efficiently, the losses will be low but there is a degree of variation. At present the cost of these physical losses places an average transmission loss charge on generators (including renewables). The market regulator (Ofgem) is proposing that the average charge is replaced by a locational signal that reflects the higher loss levels with the increasing distance to demand. As a result, all the generators within a particular area would be charged at a rate that accounts for the zonal losses of that area.

  16.  This has cost implications for the siting of renewable generation, as it will become preferential to locate all new generation plant in the south-east of the UK where the zonal charge will be the lowest cost.

  17.  This issue is pertinent to the issue of wave and tidal energy, as from a Scottish perspective the location of the resource (the far north, and offshore from the western coast) is a long way from the centres of demand (in Scotland), and even further from the demand centre in the UK (the south-east).

  18.  The paragraphs above describe the existing, and future (short to medium-term) issues. It must be borne in mind that within the next 50 years the majority of existing power stations are unlikely to be operating. Therefore, designing a coherent system that includes both demand and supply measures, a flexible electricity generation portfolio, coupled with transparent regulation mechanisms is vital to meeting longer-term commitments. By "backcasting" from this future state, the true scope of the challenges to development (and their timescales) will become apparent.


  19.  If the UK has the ambition to fully develop opportunities within wave and tidal energy then there needs to be a focus on the skills that are required to support it. At present, there has been little co-ordinated support for wave and tidal energy projects and the facilities available for development and testing of devices are not being maintained.

  20.  Within the UK shipbuilding and offshore industries, the skills base exists to support many of the fundamental aspects of wave and tidal energy devices. Both of these industries are in decline and education and (re)training programmes must be developed to transfer the knowledge into a structure that can maintain current expertise in this area, and provide opportunities for new developments.

  21.  Framed against the opportunities that exist, the initiative should be taken to transfer the leading techniques and devices from the experience of those already operating in the marine offshore environment into wave and tidal technologies. Education will also play an important role if a new generation of scientists, engineers and economists, are to approach the future without the constraints of a sytem that belongs more to the last century than to this one.


  22.  Within the scope of the Committee's inquiry, there has been a wide call for memoranda. The questions that are listed below identify particular areas of interest but have not highlighted the overarching issue of planning.

  23.  An examination of the complexity of the legal framework and its stakeholders surrounding the development of the offshore wind industry in the UK provides a useful corollary to wave and tidal energy development. The different organisations that could be potentially involved with any project either as advisers, or as influencers whose decision determine the outcome of a project proposal, must be included in the process of policy development in this area. By forming alliances with these organisations from the outset, the complexity of the overall process can be reduced, and the certainty of the outcome improved for a prospective investor or developer.



Is the technology available for efficient generation of power from waves and tides?

  24.  The concepts for generation from wave and tidal resources are well developed, but the technology is not yet mature for either.

  25.  Water-based technologies have an advantage over wind and solar in that the energy flux is in an order of magnitude higher, typically 4kW per metre squared compared with 400W, and often much less, for wind and solar technologies. Modern load management techniques have also substantially alleviated earlier intermittent load fluctuating problems pertaining to both tidal and wave power among other renewable sources. However, like other forms of renewable generation factors relating to system integration still have to be considered even now for both tidal power and wave power.

  26.  The design of wave energy converters has to be flexible enough to enable them to operate at maximum efficiency over the normal range of sea conditions, yet they must be robust enough to withstand the worst storms, along with any anchorage or civil/marine engineering works.

  27.  Despite its large potential resource for the UK of 40-50 TWh/year (approximately 15-20 per cent of UK electricity generation output), no economic large-scale wave energy device has yet been produced, and load management and integration problems are still quite severe.


Will wave and tidal energy become commercially viable in the near future, and attractive to the private sector as a profitable investment?

  28.  The development of offshore wind projects has received much publicity within England and Wales and is already becoming attractive for private sector investment. Although a large wind resource exists in Scotland, the development of projects offshore is less attractive than those proposed in England and Wales due to the steeper coastal profile and subsequent increase in engineering cost that currently limit large-scale development.

  29.  However, there is a great marine resource to be harnessed in wave and tidal energy around the coastline of the UK, in particular on the northern and western coasts of Scotland. An additional factor that plays in favour of the development of offshore wave and tidal energy is that unlike other forms of renewable energy (for example wind), it is highly predictable and can provide a base-load supply.

  30.  At present, the economic advantage of wave and tidal power depends upon the relative values of imported and exported energy within the system, and on the ability of the supply system to meet the demand. It will be difficult for either to become commercially viable if the present economic indicators continue to be used. The additional engineering costs per installed unit of power for wave and tidal energy are not balanced by additional environmental costs that could be reflected in other carbon dioxide emitting generation.

  31.  Under the Renewables Obligation, a system of certificates has been proposed that will move some way towards addressing the benefits of "new" renewable generation technologies. The new arrangements place an obligation on electricity suppliers to provide 10 per cent of their supply from renewable source by 2010 or pay a fixed penalty per unit that is not supplied from a qualifying renewable resource.

  32.  Hardware costs for both wave and tidal plant are coming in around £1,000/kW. However installed costs in OWC projects can come in around £2,500/kW if extensive civil engineering works are required for the supporting structure. Where additional network issues require to be addressed, this will add to the costs significantly if it is a small-scale project. With "mass production" hardware costs should be able to be reduced.

  33.  At present the price of electricity produced by wave and tidal stream technologies come in at above 5p per unit (which is the proposed capped price of the renewable electricity to be supplied in this arrangement). With electricity suppliers operating with a commercial driver, it would not make sense to enter into such contracts with wave and tidal power providers when they can buy themselves out of the unit supply obligation at a price lower than contracting wave generation. In addition, tidal stream energy is not included in the Renewable Obligation list of acceptable technologies despite its potential.


What projects are currently running in the UK and how successful have they been?

  34.  Three wave energy projects were awarded contracts under the 3rd Scottish Renewables Order (SRO), but only one of these contracts has been realised. The main wave energy project is a shoreline device that combines an oscillating water column (OWC) to compress air that drives a Wells turbine. WaveGen and Professor Whittaker from Queen's University Belfast had developed smaller scale demonstration devices over a period of around 10 years. The commercial device (Limpet) was commissioned in November 2000 and has a capacity rating of 0.5MW. Due to a weak grid-connection on the Island only 0.15MW of the capacity can be used. The device also requires specific shoreline characteristics.

  35.  In terms of tidal stream energy, the science is well understood but the technology requires further development. One 300kW unit is about to be installed by marine Current Turbines of Lynmouth in Devon and The Engineering Business has also demonstrated a small model device that they are seeking to upgrade to a demonstration stage. A novel tidal device is also undergoing development by RVeco Ltd.

Why did past projects fail?

  36.  Previous programmes have included IT Power's tidal stream that suffered the wrath of the elements at the Corran Narrows, Loch Linnhe near Fort William and ART's (now Wavegen) OSPREY project suffering similiar problems in the Pentland Firth. These failures have been attributed to engineering shortcomings induced by budgetary cutbacks.

  37.  Most likely sources of wave energy are on the west coast of Britain, and at some considerable distance from likely large users of electricity. Hence the total costs for design and erection of the energy generators, and the power transmission system must be analysed and estimated in relation to the market, and the price that the market will pay. Too often in the past, seeming attractive projects have foundered because of over-optimistic initial assumptions.

  38.  At present, wave and tidal energy technologies lack a large corporate sponsor and this lack is of critical importance. Recently a trade association "Seapower" (sponsored by British Energy) and the associated Marine Technologies Network was announced that will provide a platform from which to address some of these issues, but a significant financial sponsor for development is still the major requirement.


What role should wave and tidal energy have in the Government's renewable energy strategy? Should they be a higher priority?

  39.  Wave and tidal stream devices have the potential to be as important as onshore wind energy but the technology needs to be demonstrated and encouraged if it is to develop.

  40.  They have an additional benefit over other forms of renewable generation that are currently receiving support (offshore wind, biomass) that they can be predicted and used as base load (which wind is not), and do not involve a combustion process and consequent exhaust gases. It they are to be used on a large scale, they are also likely to have less visual impact (particularly tidal services) and as such should also be assessed on these merits for support.


What Research & Development is being undertaken at present? Is national funding for R&D being well co-ordinated?

  41.  Although there are funding opportunities available through both the DTI and the EPSRC, much of the research being carried out is fragmented, and undertaken with limited funding available (maximum typically 50 per cent of project costs) with peer reviews primarily being academic based. Additionally, some of the research is limited by a lack of available facilities within the UK for testing and development.

  42.  An example of this is Professor Salter at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Edinburgh. He is working on wave power using a modified Swedish buoy system, however the Edinburgh wave tank, where this work is being undertaken, is scheduled for demolition.


What are the environmental implications of wave and tidal energy, particularly for marine life? How will such devices affect shipping?

Wave energy

  43.  It is often perceived that the environmental effects of wave power will lead to a reduction in the wave energy incident on shores and shallow inshore waters. This decrease could result in changes in the numbers and species of the local flora and fauna and the reduction in wave height could also lead to less replenishment of water to splash-filled pools. They may also lead to the growth, rather than the erosion, of beaches. Offshore installations will also require shore based support facilities as well as a fleet of support vessels.

  44.  The onshore Islay Wave station is viewed by many as not contributing to the local visual amenity and some designs of air-turbine may produce unpleasant noise which could be audible above the background of the wind and waves. Offshore devices will have less visual impact but may come into conflict with fishing activities in terms of risk of collision and the fouling of fishing gear on mooring systems. Offshore devices may, however, create calm conditions lee-side, which could be of advantage to maritime transport.

  45.  The development of an offshore wave/tidal industry could have significant knock-on benefits in other areas. Anchoring devices could act as new reefs for colonisation by fish and marine life, and careful siting of wave and tidal devices could protect existing, or create new spawning/nursery grounds for the depleted fish stocks.

Tidal Stream

  46.  Tidal stream devices are judged to be considerably less intrusive than wind turbines and barrages and the likely hazard to navigation will be no different from what exhibited by current offshore installations. The impact on marine life has yet to be assessed.


How does Britain compare with other comparable nations in R&D in this field? What projects are currently being undertaken abroad and how successful have they been?

  47.  Because Britain has one of the best world resources of wave and tidal climate, we are well-placed to develop this potential and the Limpet wave-power device is one of the most advanced systems world wide. The UK is no worse than other EU countries. However as the major resources exist around the west coast of the UK, we should be well ahead of the world in terms of R&D and Funding programmes.

  48.  There are smaller systems wave-power devices powering buoys and remote instrumentation at sea. For example, the Japanese TWG-3 is currently being used by Trinity Light House Service as well as in Denmark and Japan. Blue energy in Canada has also developed a 25kW Darrieus vertical axis turbine. The Portuguese have built an oscillating water-column device in the Azores and further work on tidal stream devices is being undertaken in Norway, Italy and China.

  49.  Several designs have now been developed and tested around the world over the last 10 years and predictions now show that from an initial generating cost of 20 p/kWh in 1980, cost will be down to 6 p/kWh in 2001.

1 March 2001

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 8 May 2001