Examination of Witnesses (Questions 209
WEDNESDAY 28 MARCH 2001
209. Minister, good afternoon. Thank you for
finding the time to come along to the Science and Technology Select
Committee, with your new ministerial briefing. We welcome you
very much indeed. I wonder if, before I put the first question,
you would be kind enough either to introduce your two colleagues
or, perhaps, invite them to introduce themselves?
(Mr Hain) Thank you very much, Chairman.
Can I say what a pleasure it is to be in front of you, especially
a Committee with a lot of scientific expertise on it, and I look
forward to developing the case. John Doddrell heads our Renewable
Energy Unit, and Jeremy Eppel is from the DETR, with responsibilities
in the same area.
210. Thank you very much indeed. Can I ask you,
Minister, if the Government is on course to meet its target of
10 per cent of sustainable electric energy generation and 20 per
cent of carbon dioxide emission reduction by 2010? Ten per cent
up on generation and 20 per cent down on CO2?
(Mr Hain) We are certainly on course in respect of
the obligation to reach the 10 per cent objective on renewable
sources in terms of our overall electricity supply. The renewables
obligation is a powerful driver because it requires, as you are
aware, every electricity supplier, by the time the instrument
comes into forcewhich is planned for 1 Octoberto
have, over time, 10 per cent of its capacity from renewables.
So I think we can achieve that, but there is a long way to go.
We are up, now, to 2.8 per cent of energy supplies from renewables
211. And nine years to go.
(Mr Hain) And nine years to go. Obviously, on CO2
emissions, again, we are working very hard to achieve that objective
and I think we are well advanced compared with many other countries.
212. To help us in this Inquiry, could you indicate
to us, as of this moment, if you cannot indicate anything else,
which of the renewable energies that are most likely to give you
a sizeable part of this 10 per cent from sustainable energy?
(Mr Hain) Offshore wind is, perhaps, the leading new
area at the moment. Biomass will also be an important contributor.
I am myself, which is why I very much welcome this Inquiry of
yours, very much a trail blazer for renewable energy. I think
that it has a great potential for contributing in the future beyond
the end of the decade well above the 10 per cent limit, provided
we give it the necessary impetus and the necessary support, and
provided we also recognise that if we are to create Britain as
a leading knowledge-based economy in the world then, in an energy
sense, the renewable sector is probably the area where we have
the most potential in that respect as well. Far too often in the
past British inventions, British science and British technological
capacity has not had the support either from Government or the
wider community, and so we have often trail-blazed in the scientific
sense but not carried it through into production and, in this
respect, fulfilled a vital strategic need as well.
213. We blaze the trail but we do not make the
(Mr Hain) Indeed, or the waves.
214. You move us nicely on to the next question
I wanted to ask. You did say that you hoped that after 2010 there
will be a continuation of this aim to have a higher proportion
of energy coming from sustainable sources. Have you any plans
to set targets after 2010? If you have not, could I point out
to you that setting targets might not only help Government to
know where it is going but it would certainly encourage research
councils and researchers in their projects if they know that Government
has got a secondary target after 2010say, 2020. It would
give them encouragement and determination to keep going.
(Mr Hain) Of course, the renewables obligation does
provide an assured market until 2026. So that is why it is a powerful
driver beyond the end of the decade. The whole future of renewable
energy is something under active consideration. I do not think,
if I may say so, Chairman, that we have always given it the priority
that it deserves and requires which, in my view, we are obliged
to do given the long-term shortage of energy supply, environmental
considerations and so forth. Even as a Government, although we
have done more than any other government with £250 million
now earmarked over the next three years for various forms of project
support, research and development support and so on, I think that
we have to step up the impetus. Certainly the next Government
must carry that baton forward with renewed vigour.
215. When you answered one of my questions you
indicated that offshore wind and biomass were the two most likely
areas, but you did not mention a wave contribution. Could I ask
what has been learnt from the Government's wave energy programme
that ran from 1974 to 1982? You will notice that is a carefully
non-political question because it is 1974 to 1982, over two governments,
so there is no political bias in the question.
(Mr Hain) Chairman, the Committee is always neutral.
Perhaps I will ask my officials to assist on this since I was
not even in Parliament at the time. I was disappointedand
I make no party point in returnthat the support and assistance
for wave and tidal stream energy was abandoned in 1994, then it
was resurrected. It followed the report of an independent committee
which recommended that this should be the case, but we picked
it up again in 1999. I think it is very clear from the potential
which we have discovered already (which I am happy to go into)
that this has got great potential in the future. Perhaps I can
ask Mr Doddrell to assist on that.
216. I do not think we have time to go into
massive detail, but we would just like to be reassured that we
had some exciting projects in the 1980s or thereabouts, including
Salter's `duck', and so on. We all thought these things were going
to go somewhere and then, for technological reasons, they did
not. I just hope some lessons were learned from them, and I would
be delighted to hear from Mr Doddrell.
(Mr Doddrell) Thank you, Mr Chairman. I think that
the deciding rationale to discontinue the programme at that time
was one of economics, and the prospects of wave energy coming
in and being competitive with other energy sources, even other
renewable sources, at that time did not look promising. The decision
to discontinue was therefore one taken on economic grounds. With
hindsight, it was clearly a mistake. I was not around, either,
then, like the Minister, but there were lessons learned from those
projects. Some of them have been on hold and the same people are
now active again with renewed support from the Government, and
we are working closely with them as to how we can now take them
Chairman: That is a very frank answer, if I
may say so, that you have learnt from what happened in the past,
and looking back at it again with a little bit of hindsight you
realise that some things that might have been able to continue
were not allowed to, and you will pick them up and run with them.
217. Can I ask whether the DTI was pro-nuclear
during that time?
(Mr Doddrell) I do not think that the nuclear issue
had anything to do with this decision; it was an independent committee
that looked and evaluated the programme, and looked at the economics
of wave energy. To the best of my knowledge, nuclear energy had
nothing to do with that decision.
218. Minister, recent reports have stated that
the UK, with its excellent wave resources, very strong tides and
offshore engineering skills base from the North Sea oil industry,
has the perfect combination and perfect opportunity to become
world leader in wave and tidal energy, with all that that implies.
Do you agree with those statements?
(Mr Hain) I do agree with them. I think the geographical
situation, surrounded by stormy waters, as well as the innovative
research and development projects which we have seen develop (and
I am happy to go into those) place us in a position to lead the
world on wave power and, also, on tidal stream energy. That combination
of factors of scientific and technological development, coupled
with our natural advantages, means that I think we have responsibility,
as a Government, to help industry secure that leading role and,
therefore, help Britain contribute not just to its own energy
needs but to export the expertise right across the world.
219. That leads perfectly to the next question,
Minister, which is could you then outline the long-term research
and development strategy that you propose to adopt to bring forward
wave and tidal energy, bearing in mind the Prime Minister's recent
speech promising a green industrial revolution?
(Mr Hain) Indeed. Of course, in that speech he announced
an additional £100 million in support for renewable energyactive
supportsome of which will come in the way of wave and tidal
stream. In terms of the detailed research support we are giving,
this is of course part of the £55 million budget specifically
earmarked for research and development in renewables. The budget
this year is £14 million, and then £55.5 million over
the next three years. That is general, right across renewables.
In terms of wave and tidal stream, we are presently supporting
seven wave energy projects and one tidal stream project, a total
value of £1.86 million, with the DTI contribution of £1.27
million. Then the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
has 10 wave and energy tidal stream projects in place with a total
value of just over £1.1 millionpart, obviously, public
funding. In addition, within the European Commission's Fifth Framework
Programme, wave and tidal stream projects co-ordinated by British
companies currently amount to 2.6 million euros. We cover a number
of areas, including further development of existing design concepts,
research to tackle key development issues and monitoring prototype
devices. The EPSRC has, of course, an emphasis on fundamental
research, and we are involved in peer review and oversight of
those projects. We have got closer links with the EPSRC and we
are currently in discussion with them on how to take forward our
support, especially in this area.