Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220
WEDNESDAY 28 MARCH 2001
220. Is your support strategy based on any sort
of long-term aim of a specific market share for wave and tidal
energy, or is it randomly based? What is your view of the potential
contribution towards our energy economy that wave and tidal can
(Mr Hain) It is neither randomly based, nor does it
have a target because the technology at the present time is far
too limited to make an assessment yet of the potential. As the
Committee may be aware, there is an important project based at
Islay, which you may know about already. It is a 200 kilowatt
limpid 500 project, and if I can find the detail of it I will
go into it.
221. Minister, if I may say, we have had papers
on it and we were, in fact, last week due to visit it but, for
various reasons, we had to postpone our visit. To save time, we
are very familiar with that project.
(Mr Hain) There is also the swimming snake device
which has completed its laboratory testing, and for Pelamis there
are plans for sea trials of a model later this year, which will
take place off the vale of Ireland. You are familiar with that
Chairman: Yes, we have had a briefing on that.
222. Can I ask, Minister, does your 10 per cent
renewables target include waste or other carbon sources?
(Mr Hain) It does.
223. If so, do you not think this is a sort
of counter-incentive to try to bring on the development of totally
clean sources like wave and tide?
(Mr Hain) No, I do not. I am as enthusiastic a ministerial
advocate as you are likely to find of clean energy and green energy
renewablespossibly (without commenting in any adverse way)
more enthusiastic than any of my predecessors. However, I do not
think we can afford to avoid taking advantage of the capacity
for generation from waste. After all, what else do you do with
it? Just fill up the ground and produce, in time, a lot of environmentally
contaminated problems as a result and a leakage of methane gas
completely wasted. Others may say this is beyond the terms of
reference of this investigation, but I have had quite a lot of
briefing and seen some of the companies that are developing various
uses of waste once all the maximum amount of recycling has taken
place, which has the potential for producingand can actually
in present conditions producevery clean gas with either
no emissions or limited emissions. So I do not think we can simply
ignore that potential, but neitherpicking up your pointmust
we see it as an alternative or a block on really pushing forward
wave energy and tidal stream energy, photovoltaics (which I do
not think we have done enough of yet but we are now picking up
that baton very energetically) or other renewable sources, genuinely
renewable, clean and green sources.
224. I am very glad, Minister, to hear that
commitment. Having said that, do you think that total spend of
£2.37 million over a number of years from the DTI and EPSRC
together on wave and tidal research represents a really serious
commitment to the technology and is sufficient to give us the
lead in this field, bearing in mind the single-minded way in which
the Danish government have supported wind energy and the fruits
that has borne for them? Do you think we are really putting our
money where our mouths are sufficiently?
(Mr Hain) I think we have made a very important start,
but I would like to see that contribution as a beginning. The
signal I want to give out to the inventors, businesses and researchers
involved in this whole area is that you have a friend in court
in the DTI and any new bids for research and development assistance
for technological support for capital projects will be looked
at very sympathetically. This budget is now a very considerable
one, as I say, amounting to £250 million across the board.
I just want to encourage people to make progress and they willobviously,
on a properly costed and assessed basisget our backing.
Certainly one of the reasons I am very encouraged by your Inquiry
is that I look forward to reading your recommendations and receiving
them, and if you feel minded to give an extra impetus to this
whole agenda that will be something I will welcome.
225. Coming back to the Prime Minister's £100
million for renewable energy, how much of that do you think will
be directed to wave and tidal energy? Will you be prepared to
put forward a strong case for wave and tide?
(Mr Hain) Yes, I will. Of course, the Performance
and Innovation Unit is looking at this matter at the present time,
and when the Prime Minister made his announcement he put it in
the context of awaiting its recommendations later in the yearsooner
rather than later, I hope. Yes, subject to that, I think that
there is enormous potential here for wave and tidal stream.
226. In your memorandum you stated that the
UK is one of the leaders in the field of wave energy. On what
sort of international comparison do you base this statement?
(Mr Hain) There are only a few devices internationally
at a demonstration stage. We have got programmes, of which you
may be aware, in China, Denmark, India, Japan and Sri Lanka, with
commercial devices being built or having been built in Australia,
Ireland, the Netherlands and the USA. That is in wave energy.
In tidal stream we have got only two government-written programmes
resulting in small test devices in China and Japan. There are
no plans for these to be developed further but there is some company-led
research going on in Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand.
There is one 130 kilowatt project in Italy. So I think compared
with that, the fact that we are supporting seven wave energy projects
and one tidal stream project, with our geographical advantage
and this new government backed commitment, I think puts us in
227. You have mentioned a number of countries.
Who do you see as the major players in the field and how do we
compare to them?
(Mr Hain) I think it is a bit early to say. What I
will do, if that helps, is offer to write to you more fully on
228. Thank you.
(Mr Hain) The Scandinavians have always got a good
track record in this, as was mentioned earlier. I hope that we
can really build on what is a world lead at the moment and make
sure we extend it.
229. Do you think we will be in a position where
we will not get overtaken by countries like Denmark as we did
on wind power?
(Mr Hain) That rather depends on government policy
in future years and who is driving it. No doubt your recommendations
will act as a spur, if that is the way we go.
230. Putting it as a wish rather than a prediction,
would you wish us to be leaders in wave and tidal energy?
(Mr Hain) Unquestionably. I want to see us as world
leaders. We have that potential. We are in pole position at the
present time and we want to make sure we win the race.
231. I understand that the DTI is a founder
member of the International Energy Agency which is being led by
Portugal at the moment. How did that involvement come about and
what scope do you see for future collaboration in the development
of this source of renewable energy?
(Mr Doddrell) We are closely involved with the IEA
in a range of activities on renewables, but we do not have any
plans for any new, specific initiatives with the IEA in wave and
tidal stream at the moment.
232. So there are no collaborative programmes
on the horizon?
(Mr Doddrell) No new initiatives. It is still a very
infant industry. In a sense, one collaborates with other countries
when we feel we can benefit from what they have developed. At
the moment, we are at the leading edge and we want to build up
our own domestic industry and make sure we maintain a competitive
advantage as these things come through into the market place.
(Mr Hain) Of course, there is, in addition, the prospect
of a European Union agenda here and an obligation being considered.
That places us, I think, in a position where precisely this sort
of initiative would become easier.
233. Minister, you said you are a trail blazer
for renewable sources. How refreshing to hear that. What leads
you to believe that you have the right strategy in place for effective,
co-ordinated funding to take wave and tidal energy from the basic
drawing board to commercial exploitation? You mentioned earlier
there are many other organisationsEPSRC, the European Union,
DTI and private fundingbut what leads you to believe that
the blocks you put in place are going to deliver the results?
(Mr Hain) They are very much foundation blocks, I
do not deny that, but I think they are early signs of a commitment
to build above and build as fast as we can. The funding that is
now in place is relatively new, so I think it sends a signal out
to everybody that we do mean business in this area. We have a
lot more to do, I do not really dispute that at all.
234. Minister, some of the companies who have
given evidence to this Committee have said to us that they have
done the academic research and laboratory testing and now they
need real testing of data in real situations to prove that the
devices they have are actually going to work and gain commercial
backing. Will you make this one of your priorities?
(Mr Hain) Yes.
235. Well, what are you going to do about it?
(Mr Hain) Make it one of my priorities.
236. Do you not think that could be very expensive
and you could end up with a sort of Millennium Dome in the middle
of the sea?
(Mr Hain) I think that is an important point. I am
not conceding that comparison, it would be a very unfortunate
image to attach to it.
237. An upside down Dome.
(Mr Hain) An upside down windmill.
238. I think the figures are not in that league,
(Mr Hain) Before we get totally diverted, Chairman,
I think that the potential is quite large but the research and
development is still at an early stage. When the priority is to
work with the industrieswhich we are doingto develop
a strategy in consultation to support research and development,
and where projects are being taken forward either at the testing
level or at a practical level as in Islay, then our money will
239. Many of our witnesses have mentioned that
the UK needs an offshore wave energy test site facility similar
to that which has been set up by the Danish government. When you
were talking about priorities earlier, would this be, perhaps,
a priority that could be brought forward as part of your priorities
for this sector?
(Mr Hain) We will certainly have a look at that.