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


Memorandum submitted by the Natural Environment Research Council


  1.  The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) welcomes this opportunity to provide evidence into the Committee's enquiry into Wave and Tidal Energy.

  2.  NERC is the UK's leading organisation for basic, strategic and applied research and training across the spectrum of the environmental sciences. NERC's purpose is to support high quality scientific research, survey, monitoring and postgraduate training with the objective of enhancing knowledge, understanding and prediction of the environment and its resources. NERC achieves this through its support of scientists at universities and through its own Research Centres: the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the British Geological Survey (BGS), the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and the Southampton Oceanography Centre (SOC—a joint venture with the University of Southampton), Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratory (DML), Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) and Proundman Oceanographic Laboratory (POL).

  3.  Our evidence to this inquiry, which includes comments from BAS, SOC, POL, NERC's Sea Mammal Research Unit, and staff at Swindon Office, is structured around the terms of reference contained in the press notice.


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

  4.  NERC believes that technology for the generation of energy from waves is viable, particularly for small-scale operations. In Antarctica BAS is currently considering wave energy as a renewable resource for one of its research bases, Bird Island in South Georgia. Wave energy is an attractive proposition for this location because of the difficult logistics involved in supplying the base with fuel, the associated need to conserve fuel, and the favourable geography of the site (ie in a bay with strong winds and tides). A shoreline fixed device is being considered because it would not present a collision hazard to navigation and is less likely to be interfered with by the seals that breed on the island, than a near-shore floating device.


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

  5.  The viability of tidal energy depends on the cost of conventional fuels such as oil and gas and the capital cost repayment of the tidal energy turbine/generator. At the moment the cost of the conventional fuels cost shows no sign of increasing significantly over the capital costs repayment period of 20-30 years. This means that without suitable incentives wave and tidal energy is unlikely to become commercially viable.


What projects are currently running in the UK and how successful have they been? Why did past projects fail?

  6.  NERC has no comment.


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

  7.  NERC has no comment.


What Research and Development is being undertaken at present? How much funding is available, and how easy is it for innovative ideas to gain support? Is national funding for R&D being well co-ordinated? What sort of peer-review processes are undertaken?

  8.  As part of the Spending Review 2000 NERC has been given the lead in co-ordinating cross Research Council activities on technologies for sustainability and energy, which includes wave and tidal energy. We are currently discussing with the other UK Research Councils priorities for future activities.

  9.  There is a need for research on the temporal and spatial variation of the current wave resources in order to optimise site selection, improve prediction of extreme conditions and assess extreme loading on renewable energy facilities as presently experienced and taking account of climate change scenarios. SOC holds a large amount of background information on wave conditions, including estimates of wave energy based on global satellite data sets which could be used for this purpose. In the past POL has undertaken research into impacts of tidal energy systems on tidal regimes and in assessing energy availability from them.


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

  10.  Commercial exploitation of the marine environment is subject to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Whilst NERC would not be concerned with evaluation, the development of appropriate scientific rationales to assess the likely impacts on sedimentary and ecological regimes is an appropriate challenge for the NERC scientific community.

  11.  Offshore wave energy devices produce sheltering in the lee, which has both positive and negative ecological and coastal protection effects. Such effects would need to be assessed at any proposed site.

  12.  NERC's Sea Mammal Research Unit at St Andrews University would have an interest in the effects of any device in the UK, which may have a negative impact on the free movement of seals.

  13.  The conservation status of potential sites for wave and tidal energy projects would need to be investigated. The European Union's Habitats Directive requires the UK to set up protected areas in the marine environment. There are currently 12 Marine Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) candidate sites around the UK.


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?

  14.  NERC has no comment.

February 2001

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