Memorandum from the Institution of Mechanical
This statement has been prepared to present
the Institution of Mechanical Engineer's current attitude to the
supply of renewable electrical energy in the UK. The Institution
represents over 80,000 professional engineers involved in a wide
range of governmental, commercial, industrial and charitable work.
Many have expertise and experience within the industries and activities
associated with the supply and use of electricity in the UK, including
that generated by renewables.
Hydro has been the dominant renewable source
of electricity in the UK for several decades. However, by comparison
with nuclear, coal and gas, it plays a very minor role, accounting
for only 1 per cent of electricity supplied in 2000. Options for
expansion in hydro capacity are limited.
Wind and solar photovoltaic technologies only
accounted for around 0.25 per cent of all electricity supplied
in the UK in 2000, though this figure has grown quite rapidly
in recent years. The UK has, potentially, enough wind energy on
and around its shores to meet all its electricity needs many times
over. The technologies to exploit that resource, cleanly, efficiently
and safely exist, though have been developed largely by non-UK
companies, which represents a lost opportunity for UK industry.
But it is not too late. Costs of producing electricity by these
means have fallen considerably and are likely to continue to do
so, to the extent that they are competitive with other forms of
electricity supply. We believe the UK should aspire to a position
of world leadership in wind energy technologies, particularly
offshore. The UK government must do more to promote a market for
wind energy in the UK. The New Electricity Trading Arrangements
(NETA) are particularly unhelpful in regard to encouraging such
Solar energy can make a significant contribution
to the UK's medium and long-term electricity needs, as well as
those of many other countries, and its development and use should
also be encouraged. At present, however, the large quantities
of energy needed to manufacture the panels makes them potentially
less attractive than other renewable sources in terms of net CO2
emissions (assuming some or all of the energy used in manufacture
comes from fossil fuels).
We do not believe there is a likelihood of other
non-thermal electricity supply technologies, such as waves, tidal
barrages, tidal flow devices and geo-thermal sources, playing
a major role in the short to medium term. Expertise in many of
these technologies, often world leading, exists within the UK
science and engineering base. They might be able to compete with
wind, solar and other technologies in the longer term, so support
is needed now for research, development and/or demonstration projects.
There is considerable uncertainty at present
as to the effects generating large quantities of electricity intermittently,
and from regions far removed from areas of high demand, will have
on grid stability and security of supply. Whilst it seems unlikely
that major problems will occur within the next 10 or 20 years,
expansion in the use of wind and solar energy beyond about 20-30
per cent of all electricity supplied might well cause difficulties.
Further research is needed into this area, particularly into modernising
the national transmission system to better cope with intermittent
and dispersed supply, and support is needed for the development
and demonstration of effective energy storage systems, a field
in which the UK has considerable expertise.
The combustion of landfill gas, sewage sludge,
refuse, agricultural waste and "energy" crops supplied
just over one per cent of the UK's electricity in 2000. The combustion
of other waste products, such as coke oven and blast furnace gas,
supplied a similar amount.
The collection and combustion of landfill gas,
in particular, for generating electricity is desirable for many
reasons, including safety, economic and environmental. Its continued
expansion should be encouraged, but the resource available in
the UK is quite limited, so landfill gas and other wastes will
not be able to supply more than a few per cent of the UK's electricity
Energy crops have far greater potential to supply
a significant proportion of the UK's electricity. The main crop
suitable for the UK is willow grown as short rotation coppice.
We believe that significant expansion in the UK's production and
use of energy crops is both technically feasible and desirable.
As well as the environmental benefits of this broadly carbon-neutral
technology, it has the potential to stimulate growth and prosperity
in many rural communities. It can also be used to generate electricity
constantly, unlike intermittent sources such as wind and solar
The commercial and policy environment is absolutely
critical to the successful expansion in capacity and supply of
energy from renewable sources, both thermal and non-thermal. We
urge the Government to construct a commercial environment, be
it through taxation, levies, trading agreements or other means,
that genuinely encourages the development of all sustainable energy
technologies. As stated previously, we do not believe, in particular,
the New Electricity Trading Arrangements (NETA) are adequate in
Renewable energy sources, particularly offshore
wind and energy crops offer real potential to replace fossil-fuel
and nuclear based generation of electricity in the medium and
long term. They should be the major focus for research, development
and demonstration funding and other government support. The current
target of 10 per cent of the UK's electricity needs to be supplied
by renewables by 2010 will be extremely difficult to achieve without
that major focus. Targets for substantial expansion in the renewables
sector well beyond 2010 should be established soon, to provide
the long-term commitment and market stability that investors need,
and thus to exploit the huge opportunities for UK manufacturers
and energy service providers.
Greater Government support is needed for research,
development and demonstration (R, D & D) projects within the
electricity field. Priority technologies for R, D & D funding
are offshore wind power, energy crops, energy storage, grid stability,
hydrogen fuel cells, "clean coal", "carbon capture"