Memorandum submitted by the Natural Environment
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 (SOCa
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
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
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.