HC Deb 13 February 1978 vol 944 cc1-4
2. Mr. Rhodes James

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what financial resources his Department proposes to allocate to each of the alternative sources of energy over the next year; and if he will make a statement.

5. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Energy, further to his statement, Official Report, 9th December, column 906, what are the latest figures available for the amounts spent on research into each of the alternative sources of energy.

13. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is the current level of Government expenditure on research into each of the renewable sources of energy.

The Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Alex Eadie)

Figures for future annual expenditure on individual renewable sources cannot be given, as research and development funds are allocated on a programme basis. Since April 1976 the Department has announced a two to three-year programme on wave energy costing £2.5 million, a three-year programme on geothermal energy costing £900,000, and a four-year programme on solar energy costing £3.6 million, bringing the total Government expenditure on solar energy to £6 million over that period. In addition, the Department has allocated £250,000 to cover studies relating to wind energy and tidal energy.

Government expenditure in 1976–77 on research and development into renewable sources of energy was approximately £1 million. Research and development programmes will build up rapidly over the next few years.

Mr. Rhodes James

I thank the Under-Secretary of State for his reply. Are he and his right hon. Friend satisfied with the scale of the allocation given the nature of the energy problems confronting us? In particular, is the hon. Gentleman satisfied with the allocation given the possibilities of wind power, with special reference to the efforts made by my eminent constituent, Sir Martin Ryle, in developing research into alternative energy possibilities, including wind power?

Mr. Eadie

Renewable sources of energy involve a technology that is in its infancy. There is much work to be done and much to be learnt before we embark on greater expenditure. The hon. Gentleman asked whether we are spending enough. Most renewable sources of energy are at an early development stage. There is a substantial research and development programme to help establish feasibility and acceptability. If current work yields results, expenditure will be increased to allow further development work to proceed as appropriate.

Mr. Roberts

I accept what my hon. Friend says about the early stage of many techniques, but does he not feel that the research budget is chicken feed? Does he accept that in a few years we may have to make a decision on the fast breeder reactor, and that we shall be able to make that decision properly only if by then we are able to evaluate the contribution of energy sources in support of coal, such as wave power and the Severn Barrage, by the end of the century?

Mr. Eadie

That is precisely why said I in answer to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) that renewable sources of energy technology is in its infancy. The inference in my hon. Friend's supplementary question as regards other countries is not a profitable example. There is not a great deal to be gained from trying to compare expenditures. Much depends, for example, on the different problems and the different programmes of other countries according to their likely indigenous sources of energy and how long they are likely to last. Each country has to tackle the problems according to the conditions that it finds within its own borders.

Mr. Knox

What total energy consumption do the Government expect renewable resources to provide in five years and ten years? If the figure is very low, does that not emphasise the point made by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) and the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) about inadequate funds being available for research?

Mr. Eadie

The allocation of more funds will not necessarily develop the technology that the House and the country want to see, namely, the development of indigenous renewable sources of energy. As I have said, the technology is in its infancy. As the hon. Gentleman knows from answers to Questions on other occasions, we have tried to identify the millions of tons of coal equivalent that we are likely to get from renewable sources of energy to the end of the century. With the best will in the world, we could not sustain an energy economy based purely on renewable sources of energy. Nevertheless, they are important and valuable resources.

Mr. Speaker

With the best of respect, and with all good wishes, I think that supplementary questions and answers should be briefer.

Mr. Dalyell

Will my hon. Friend be particularly blunt to those who think that alternative sources for energy form some kind of soft option enabling us to get out of awkward nuclear arguments? In particular, will he be sceptical about wind power? Is it not a fact that the equivalent of the modern nuclear power station would be only 30,000 windmills and would occupy only 400 square miles of constantly wind-swept territory? What would the conservationists think of that?

Mr. Eadie

In deference to your request, Mr. Speaker, I will simply say that I know that my hon. Friend has written articles on this subject. We in the Department are blunt and realistic.

Mr. Forman

Is the Minister aware that the weak link in the Government's policy on alternative sources of energy is the fact that they are not doing enough to promote export potential, particularly for such things as solar-driven irrigation, which would be useful in areas of Africa?

Mr. Eadie

If our plans for and our investment in renewable sources of energy come to fruition—and there is a great deal of optimism—we shall certainly bear in mind the tremendous export potential. I believe that we shall achieve this potential.

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