Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions


  1.1.  The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has responsibility for energy policy and sponsorship of the energy industries in the UK. Its aim is to work with others to ensure competitive energy markets while achieving safe, secure, and sustainable energy supplies. As part of the new government policy on sustainable energy, DTI intends to launch a new support programme for renewables which will include wave energy as announced by DTI in April 1999. The Department of the Environment has an interest in environmental issues related to renewables and in planning matters.


  2.1.  Wave energy is a potentially significant resource if the technology can be developed to convert the naturally occuring energy in the seas surrounding the UK into reliable and economic useable power. Between 1974 and 1994 UK government spent over £15 million on a programme of research and development to characterise the resource and develop the means to exploit it. In 1982 a review of the programme concluded the economic prospects for wave energy were poor compared to other renewable technologies, and that work should be reduced. The R&D programme continued at a lower level of activity until 1994 when it was ended without changing the conclusions of the 1982 review.

  2.2.  Concerns about the environmental impact of energy production from fossil fuels, which are finite resources, has resulted in an increased interest in renewable energy world-wide including wave and tidal stream. Since 1982 the understanding of wave and tidal energy has improved and a number of concepts for exploiting these resources have been devised and are at various stages of development world-wide. Some demonstration plants have been constructed and deployed and are undergoing evaluation.

  2.3.  The UK is a leading player in the development of wave energy—it has one of only three operating shoreline wave energy devices in the world—and is well placed to contribute to the further development of a number of these concepts. To this end, Government announced a new wave programme in 1999 as part of the DTI's New and Renewable Energy Programme and five projects are currently supported by DTI funds.


  3.1.  The seas surrounding the UK are a potentially significant energy resource. Between 1974 and 1983 government spent about £15 million on research and development in an attempt to characterise the resource and develop techniques for converting this naturally occurring energy into useable power. In 1982, a strategic review of renewable technologies in the UK concluded the economic prospects for wave energy was poor compared to other electricity producing renewable technologies. Following this strategic review, government accepted advice from its Advisory Council for Research and Development for Fuel and Power (ACORD) that work on large-scale prototypes could not be justified and the recommendation that the programme be reduced. Research work continued for 12 years at a lower level of activity to see if progress could be made which might justify large-scale work at some future date. This programme finally ended in 1994 without sustantially changing ACORD's conclusions.

  3.2.  The 1989 Electricity Act which led to the privatisation of the UK's electricity supply industry in 1990-91 also resulted in the establishment of a non-fossil fuel obligation (NFFO) to support nuclear and renewable generation through a levy on electricity sales. Renewable generation received support in England and Wales under NFFO and in Scotland under the Scottish Renewables Order (SRO). NFFO and SRO were successful in stimulating interest in renewables and altogether 933 contracts were awarded under five NFFO and three SRO rounds. Wave energy was not included in these renewables orders until the last round of the SRO. Three of the successful SRO contracts were for wave energy devices and, to date, only one has successfully been constructed and commissioned (on Islay off the west coast of Scotland during the autumn of 2000).

  3.3.  There has been a recent significant growth of interest in wave power around the world. In April 1999, the DTI's Marine Foresight Panel published a report "Energies from the Sea—Towards 2020" which identified R&D priorities for the development of wave and tidal stream energy. Also in the spring of 1999, Government announced a new wave programme as part of the DTI's New and Renewable R&D Programme. Soon after the announcement, a call for proposals was issued which generated five good projects for R&D on wave energy topics and these are underway supported by DTI funds. Wave energy was also included in the Programme's latest call for proposals and the resulting wave energy R&D proposals are now being evaluated. A long-term R&D strategy for the programme is being developed. There is also growing interest in the UK in tidal stream and consideration is being given to broadening the scope of the Programme to include tidal stream.


  4.1.  There are a number of different approaches broadly categorised as follows;

  4.1.1.  Shoreline wave—where a plant is constructed on the shore (or cliff face) to capture energy from incident waves. These are mostly of the Oscillating Water Column (OWC) type in which the wave action forces a column air through a turbine connected to an electrical generator. Approximately eleven demonstration scale (~200kW) OWCs have been built world-wide and tested for a limited period; several have   been decommissioned and one destroyed. Three commercial OWC schemes are currently being built world-wide with several more in the planning stage.

  4.1.2.  Nearshore—here, devices using a variety of operating principles to extract energy from the sea are deployed in shallow coastal waters. Few devices of this type have been successfully demonstrated and none of them have functioned long term.

  4.1.3.  Deep ocean—the wave climate has much higher energy levels in deeper seas (greater than about 50m depth). A number of concepts have been devised to extract this energy but only a few have been built and deployed (none in the UK). Most are at the model testing stage.

  4.1.4.  Tidal stream—this extracts energy from the ocean currents generated by the movement of tides in channels between two landmasses in close proximity. The UK has a number of sites of potential interest. Only one small-scale (~20kW) prototype has been tested in UK waters (a Scottish Loch); and this was only for   a short time. Several smaller-scale, prototype schemes have been deployed world-wide, again only in relatively short-term tests. One larger-scale device (130kW) was deployed in the Straits of Messina last year.


  5.1.  None of the wave or tidal stream concepts has yet been demonstrated to be commercially viable nor has their technical viability been demonstrated over any significant length of time. The long-term commercial viability remains uncertain.


  6.1.  The "Limpet 500" OWC electricity generator, installed on Islay in the south west Scotland. As it was commissioned only in the autumn of 2000, its medium- to long-term technological viability has still to be demonstrated. Limpet 500 was awarded a contract under the third round of the Scottish Renewables Order (SRO) and receives a premium rate for its electricity to offset high construction costs and to sell its output in competition with other forms of electricity production.

  6.2.  Pelamis is a proposed system for electricity generation using waves in moderate water depths (later it might move to deep water), presently at the model testing stage. It too has an SRO contract which will provide a premium rate for its output operating.

  6.3.  Floating Wave Power Vessel is a Swedish device for extracting useful energy from deep waters. However, no commercial scale device has ever been built. It too gained a SRO contract for development off the Shetland islands.

  6.4.  Tidal Current Turbine. There are no current UK projects. There is growing interest is tidal stream within the UK and the DTI has commissioned a study to undertake an initial evaluation of the prospects for tidal stream.


  7.1.  The Government's renewables strategy requires the energy supply industries and equipment manufacturers to take the lead in sponsoring the development and deployment of renewable energy technologies close to commercial viability. This strategy comprises a package of measures including the new Renewables Obligation on electricity suppliers to supply a specified proportion of their power from renewable sources and the Climate Change Levy Exemption. Government is also proposing a new capital grants scheme for off-shore wind and biomass. For the technologies where the prospects are still uncertain or are still a long way from commercial viability, the Government, through the DTI's New and Renewable Programme, is planning to introduce an expanded support programme to aid the research and development of new technologies. This strategy complements the more academia-led activities in these areas, which receive funding by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

  7.2.  Current estimates suggest that wave energy will not make a substantial contribution to electricity generation in the UK until after 2010. The Government's priority at present is to ensure that our target of 10 per cent electricity generation by renewables by 2010 is met, whilst also doing the work to develop those sources that could make a significant contribution post-2010, including wave energy. Tidal stream is currently being assessed by independent consultants and their advice will be taken into account when recommending what steps, if any, are necessary to take this technology forward under the R&D Programme.


  8.1.  Government sponsored R&D is being taken forward on two fronts; academic research undertaken in universities and funded mainly by the EPSRC and, industrially led R&D funded by DTI under its New and Renewable Energy support programme. DTI and EPSRC work closely together in all areas of renewable energy to ensure the programmes of work are complementary.

  8.2.  EPSRC presently has 10 wave energy and tidal stream research projects in place with a total value of just over £1.1 million.

  8.3.  The DTI's New and Renewable Energy Programme presently is supporting seven wave energy projects and one tidal stream project (total value of £1.86 million), with a DTI contribution of £1.27 million. These projects are in a number of areas, including the further development of existing design concepts, research to tackle key development issues and monitoring of prototype devices.

  8.4.  There is limited scope for wave energy projects to receive EC funding under the ENERGIE programme and to date three applications for funding have been made. Two of these were successful—a shoreline OWC demonstration project in the Azores and the European Wave Energy Network aimed at co-ordinating and improving the interaction between players.


  9.1.  The Government has placed the environment at the heart of policy making and is committed to combining environmental sustainability with economic and social progress. Prudent use of resources, including renewable resources, is a key part of the UK's sustainable development strategy.

  9.2.  The UK is playing a leading role in the fight against climate change. It has put in place a strong programme of measures to reduce emissions, to achieve and go beyond its Kyoto target. It is looking ahead to the more fundamental changes that will be needed in the years to come.

  9.3.  Developing renewable sources of energy is an important part of this. Renewable sources of energy emit no greenhouse gases in generating electricity, or are carbon neutral over their life cycle. Wave and tidal energy have the potential to make a significant contribution.

  9.4.  Mechanisms are in place to ensure that the environment implications of proposed new schemes are fully considered. When schemes are proposed, their proponents must comply with the requirements for environmental impact assessment. These involve compiling an environmental statement of the likely effects, which must be taken into account by the competent authority before a decision is taken on whether to grant consent.

  9.5.  Wave energy and tidal stream project sponsors would need to seek approval from the appropriate planning authorities in the UK before deploying any offshore plant and equipment.

  9.6.  The inter-governmental OSPAR Commission for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic completed recently (December 2000) a comprehensive assessment of the present state of, and future threats to, the North East Atlantic. This said "The environmental impact of the present plans both for more land-based power generators at a number of coastal sites and for wind, and possibly wave, power generation systems offshore needs to be carefully considered. In addition, new developments should minimise interference with other users of the sea, particularly fishing and shipping." (Quality Status Report 2000, section 6.3.1). The OSPAR Commission has included a study of what international action is needed in this field in its work programme. The UK will be participating actively in this work.


  10.1.  The UK is one of the leaders in the field of wave energy. The technology was the subject of an extensive programme of work between 1973 and 1984 which, due to poor economic prospects, continued at a lower level until 1994 when it finally ceased. The SRO projects, EPSRC and DTI Programmes are now all helping to build on this earlier work to take forward the development and evaluation of the technology.

  10.2.  Following the ministerial decision in April 1999 to include wave energy in DTI's renewable energy programme, the UK is funding a number of projects aimed at furthering the development of the technology. DTI is also a founder member of the International Energy Agency (IEA) interim agreement on ocean energy (which includes wave). This initiative, led by Portugal, is aimed a fostering co-operation between countries with an interest in exploiting sustainable energy from the oceans and sponsoring collaborative programmes of work.

  10.3.  As indicated in previous sections, the UK has given support to the development of wave energy at all stages of its development (eg early R&D through the EPSRC, prototype develpment through DTI grants and demonstration through the SRO).

  10.4. There is considerable work underway overseas but little of this has led to designs which are at the demonstration stage. Most of this work started relatively recently and is industry led (a brief synopsis of those devices which are currently being developed by industry and being at a commercial scale is given in Table 1). There are major Government led programmes (usually involving industry) in China, Denmark, India, Japan and Sri Lanka, with more minor programmes is several other countries. This has led to the deployment of only three commercial scale devices (shoreline OWCs in India and Sri Lanka and a floating OWC in Japan). Little or nothing is known about the commercial viability of these devices but the experience in India has led to the replication of the scheme.

Table 1


CountryDevice Description Current Status and Participants
AustraliaThe Energetech OWC is a shoreline device similar to the UK's LIMPET but which uses wave focussing and a novel turbine. A 400 kW commercial scheme is currently being built for deployment this summer in Australia. This is a joint venture between Energetech (a small developer) and Primergy (a renewable energy company with acquisitions in the UK) with the assistance of academia and an engineering company. Energetech is about to sign contracts for commercial schemes in two other countries.
IrelandThe McCabe Wave Pump is a hydraulic device for extracting energy from waves in moderate water depths. It is being developed to produce potable water for arid countries by supplying pressurised sea water to a reverse osmosis plant. A prototype 400 kW device has been successfully tested but only over a limited period. A commercial device is under construction and scheduled for deployment later this year. It is being developed by a small company (Hydam) in conjunction with consultants and a small engineering company. Further contracts depend on the successful, long-term performance of the device being constructed.
The NetherlandsThe Archimedes Wave Swing is a large, float-based device designed to extract energy from moderate to deep water depths. A 2 MW device is being built and will be deployed this summer. It is being developed by a small engineering company with the backing and technical support of a major utility and several engineering companies.
USAThe Wave Energy Converter developed by Ocean Power Technology (OPT WEC) is a float-based, mechanical device designed for moderate water depths (20-50 m). It consists of small units (20-50 kW) which will be deployed in arrays. The OPT system has been extensively tested at a large scale in the Eastern Atlantic and the first commercial schemes are currently being built in Australia and in the Pacific, with a number of other schemes in the pipeline. It has been developed by a small engineering company, with limited support from consultants.


  10.5  As far as is known, there are only two Government led programmes in this area. These have led to the deployment of small test devices in China and Japan, with no plans for further development. Only one commercially led scheme has been deployed (a 130 kW device in Italy only last year). This area is the subject of R&D in only a few companies world-wide (Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand) but there are currently no demonstration devices being built.

27 February 2001

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