HL Deb 26 April 1984 vol 451 cc139-42

3.6 p.m.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper

The Question was as follows: To ask Her Majesty's Government what funds they have made available for the development of alternative energy sources, compared with previous years; and which of these sources they consider offer the best prospects.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy (The Earl of Avon)

My Lords, my department spent about £11 million on renewable energy research and development in 1983–84 and expects to spend about £14 million in 1984–85. The renewable sources which offer the best prospects are wind energy, geothermal energy, and some aspects of biomass.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, in thanking the noble Earl for that reply, may I ask him whether he is aware that on an authoritative estimate it is considered that, starting in 1985, after the present programme has been completed, something of the order of £100 million to £200 million per annum should be spent on the development of alternative energy sources in order to achieve results which would justify previous expenditure? I should be very glad if he would comment on that estimate.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, there are many estimates about what can be spent, but at the moment my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is advised by the Advisory Council on Research and Development for Fuel and Power. Should the research and development which we are now doing need promotion, I am sure more money would be available.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, can the noble Earl enlighten us as to what is biomass?

The Earl of Avon:

My Lords, indeed I can. In fact the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is very interested in developing waste pellets in order to take the place of coal. There are also such things as straw-burning, which is a biofuel. Also, if the noble and learned Lord went to Brazil, he might find them burning some damp forest to make spirits.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I should like to say to the noble Earl that I would never do anything that would take the place of coal. All that I would do would be to supplement coal.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord.

Lord Collison

My Lords, I do not think that the noble Earl mentioned solar energy. Is he aware that a great number of householders have now installed solar panels to supplement their other heating for domestic purposes, and that these have proved quite successful? The noble Earl may be aware that I have spoken on this subject previously. Is he aware that I have installed a solar panel in my own house and it is showing me some considerable savings in terms of energy consumed in heating water?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, Government policy is in support of passive solar energy; but at the moment we are not putting very much money towards active solar energy. I congratulate the noble Lord on raising the question on such a perfect day.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether he will not agree that, in view of the exceptional experience of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, in this field, the difference between the estimated figure which he gives and the figure to which the Government are working is somewhat alarming and needs to be explored?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, one of the factors about which I can have a word with the noble Lord afterwards is what he includes in alternative sources of energy. For instance, I did not include what is being done at the moment with coal—where there is an expenditure of £40 million. It is very much a matter of the way one uses the expression. I take the point raised by the noble Baroness and will try to clarify it.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, can the noble Earl say how much money is now being allocated to wave energy, bearing in mind that it does not look very hopeful from the economic point of view, but might be useful at some time?

The Earl of Avon

My Lord, on the advice of ACORD, (the advisory body that I have already spoken about), we have decided not to put any more money towards wave energy. Whereas some three years ago we were spending about £4 million on research, it is now half a million pounds.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, will the noble Earl confirm that our effort on research into methods involving alternative and renewable energy is well below that of other countries? For example, is it not true that on this kind of research the Federal Republic of Germany spends £50 million a year and France spends £25 million a year? Can he explain the discrep-ancy between the sums of £ 11 million last year and £14 million this year? Can he also say how much money the Government have allocated to the development of refuse-derived fuel, which is a very important new source which could help not only through supplementing and augmenting our fuel supplies but also in dealing with the problem of refuse disposal?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, with regard to refuse fuel, which the noble Lord mentioned, at the moment we are looking at that matter through our energy demonstration projects scheme. There are a number of these schemes, all of which have different sums of money, but a number of projects are being considered at the moment. In regard to his earlier question about our spending as against that of other countries, energy supply problems and strategies to meet energy demand vary from country to country, but given our own access to indigenous fuel supplies, the Government believe that this country's expenditure on the development of renewable forms of energy is of the right order. I should also like to paraphrase that remark by saying that there is a difference between alternative forms as against renewable forms, which I mentioned to the noble Baroness.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, referring back to the question about solar energy asked by the noble Lord, Lord Collison, can the noble Earl confirm that there is a grant for insulating a house and thus saving heat? Would it not be a good thing to give a grant for producing heat by solar energy?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am not absolutely sure that I follow the noble Lord. The grants given at the moment are for home insulation schemes. Is he suggesting that we go further than that?

Lord John-Mackie

Yes, my Lords.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I think that at the moment home insulation grants are enough.

Lord Whaddon

My Lords, bearing in mind the promising prospects for the use of hydrogen as a portable energy source in the future and reports in the press of work on catalytic decomposition of water for such a source, can the noble Earl say whether any work on catalytic decomposition of water is being done in the United Kingdom?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, not that I am aware.

Lord Bowden

My Lords, several years ago there was a systematic inquiry into the possibility of a Severn barrage. Ever since then sums of money have been promised, or made available—or have not been made available—for the future development of this scheme, or an alternative version. Can the noble Earl tell us how much money is now being spent on further analysis of this extremely promising project?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, at the moment the Government are matching a quarter of a million pounds with a quarter of a million pounds on a further study of the Severn barrage.