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


Memorandum submitted by Mr Peter Hain, MP, Minister of State and Energy and Competitiveness in Europe, Department of Trade and Industry

  I very much welcomed the opportunity to appear before your committee on 28 March to assist you with your inquiry into energy from wave and tidal stream. As agreed at the committee hearing, I am writing to you now to answer the outstanding point as to whom I believe the major players are and how the UK compares with them in the development of this technology.

  As I told the committee, a number of countries are active in pursuing wave and tidal stream technologies with programmes at various stages of development. Many of these programmes are led by research institutions, but few have reached the commercial demonstration stage. If the UK is to successfully develop and deploy wave energy and tidal stream projects, it is important to engage with industry at an early stage of the technology development. The UK has a wealth of skills and experience in its marine and offshore industries that can make a significant contribution to the successful development of these new technologies. This is why my Department's programme focuses on industrially led projects to complement the work of the Engineering and Physical Sciences research council in the academic area.

  Countries that have an industrial interest in the development of projects are probably the UK's major competitors at present. Japan has been successful in the development and deployment of prototype devices (mostly of the oscillating water column type) and has commercially exploited this technology to power navigation buoys at sea (a niche market). They have also built and tested a large floating oscillating water column device called the "Mighty Whale" which had a maximum output of 110kW and produced electricity at around three times the cost of coal or oil. I believe this development programme ended in 1999 and, as far as I know, there are no plans for a follow on project. A Swedish company, Sea Power International, has tested a prototype "Floating Wave Power Vessel" which generates power from low head water turbines. Sea Power International has a SRO (Scottish Renewable Order) contract to install a 400kW machine 500m off the coast of Shetland this year. They claim its advantages are that it is a robust simple concept which uses known shipbuilding and water turbine technology. Despite this, the project sponsors seem to require a considerable subsidy and have suggested that almost a third of the project costs should be met from government or EU sources. Portugal has been a major player in wave energy development in Europe with its EU funded oscillating water column device in the Azores, but whether this translates into a major industrial interest remains to be seen.

  By comparison with the rest of the world, the UK has made good progress on wave power in recent years and the commissioning of the generator on Islay last year is evidence of that. I hope that reinstating the wave programme in 1999 will act as a further spur to development and stimulate interest in UK based companies remaining here as a base for their operations. As you know, my Department's programme already supports seven wave energy projects and I can tell you that, since the beginning of April, three further proposals worthy of support have been received and are being processed. In addition, I have authorised including energy from tidal currents in the renewable energy support programme which opens up the prospect of exploiting a second technology to extract energy from the seas surrounding the UK. My decision will enable DTI officials to take forward discussions with a project developer on a proposed demonstration plant to be constructed off the north Devon coast next year.

  All in all, I believe the UK is making good progress with the development of clean energy and the development and deployment of reliable and cost effective wave and tidal current technologies has an important part to play. However, I am not complacent and continued effort on the part of government will be required to maintain progress. I hope and believe your inquiry will help me with the further development of clean sustainable energy in the UK and I look forward to receiving your report.

24 April 2001

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