Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Mr Michael Jefferson, Global Energy and Environmental Consultant

  I note that the Committee will not be examining tidal barrages and their environmental implications—a subject on which I have grave concerns given the environmental sensitivity of UK estuarine sites with technical potential—notably in relation to migratory and over-wintering birds and the invertebrate species on which they rely.

  On the subject of wave and tidal power more generally, most of the issues in which the Committee are interested were covered in "New Renewable Energy Resources: A Guide to the Future", 1994 (Kogan Page, London, ISBN 0 7494 1263 1, now out of print). Ocean Energy comprises Chapter six of that book, pp. 320-358. I was the joint editor of that publication.

  Since 1994 there have been some smaller-scale technical developments which have been applied off-shore Northern Scotland (and about which IT Power will no doubt inform the Committee). There has also been some interest by a US-based developer in advancing projects off the Welsh coast, and in Cardiff Bay. The technical potential of wave and tidal power remains huge, despite the low energy density in the water, low efficiencies of low-temperature thermo-dynamic cycles, and—in the case of tidal power—intermittent operation. But the appropriateness of permitting development remains a site-specific issue: its potential impacts on marine and bird life, and interference with shipping and radio communication. Truly off-shore developments which do not interfere with shipping lanes would appear to have more merit than those which encroach on estuaries, the shore, and shipping routes. Large-scale ocean thermal and salt gradient schemes may have other, less well understood negative ecological impacts and need to be approached with great caution.

  In the context of the UK Government's renewable energy strategy, smaller-scale wave power schemes which do not conflict with the environmental and communications concerns already indicated have a positive contribution to make. It seems unlikely that they will make a large, cost-effective contribution by comparison with solar, wind, modern biomass/biogas, and energy efficiency initiatives.

  The UK's R&D effort in wave and tidal energy is modest, as it is in the renewable energy sector more generally. The UK is one of the very few countries where public sector energy R&D expenditure has unequivocally fallen over the past decade (Italy and Spain are the most notable other European examples). Major falls in most other countries for which energy R&D expenditures are available can be largely explained by reduced spending on nuclear and conventional fossil fuel technologies (see Annex to "Energy Policies for Sustainable Development", being Chapter 12 of "World Energy Assessment: Energy and the Challenge of Sustainability", 2000, UNDP, New York, USA. ISBN 92-1-126126-0. Pp. 447-449). In most countries for which full and reliable data are available, R&D spending on renewable energy and advanced fossil fuel technologies have risen or remained steady in real terms over the past decade, unlike the three European countries mentioned earlier in this paragraph.

  In respect of international comparisons, the UK does not figure prominently in wave and tidal energy R&D nor in renewable energy R&D more generally.


  Formerly Deputy Secretary General and Director of Studies and Policy Development, World Energy Council. Joint Editor: "New Renewable Energy Sources: A Guide to the Future", 1994. Author of "Energy for Tomorrow's World", 1993; and "Energy Policies for Sustainable Development" in "World Energy Assessment", UNDP, 2000. First Technical Co-ordinator and Lead Consultant to the G8 Renewable Energy Task Force, 2000. Review Editor, IPCC Working Group III, Third Assessment Report, "Barriers, Opportunities and Market Potential of Technologies and Practices", forthcoming 2001.

26 January 2001

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