HL Deb 22 January 1992 vol 534 cc841-3

2.45 p.m.

Viscount Hanworth

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why they are making a reassessment of wave energy, in particular the Salter Duck, and why they formerly dismissed it on apparently inadequate or preliminary information.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, wave energy research is being reviewed as part of the department's overall appraisal of energy technologies. Decisions on wave power in the early 1980s were based on the advice of the Advisory Council on Research and Development for Fuel and Power.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. But does he realise that in some quarters—and the matter even came up in committee—it was felt that the Salter Duck had been unfairly analysed when it was decided to opt for wind power? I have no proof, but many people suspect that that is so. Will the Minister make a statement that the Norwegian ideas, excellent though they may be, and our own on much the same basis are only small beer? They will be useful in isolated areas. Such a statement would be useful for the people who are keen on this project.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, with regard to the first point made by the noble Viscount, I was aware of the suspicion that Professor Salter's Duck had been discriminated against. Then, as now, we refute that. I agree that other wave power technologies that have been tried are not equal to those being experimented on in Britain. The programme being conducted by Britain is probably the most advanced in the world.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, can my noble friend enlighten me and perhaps others as to who or what is the Salter Duck and what are the characteristics of this bird?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, Professor Salter has been developing the technology, but it has not actually resulted in a device yet. It would be a device tethered to the seabed which works by a complex system of gyroscopes, and the movement of waves would be converted into energy.

Lord Donoughue:

My Lords, following the comments of the noble Viscount on the doubts about the quality of research into the costing of the Duck —and without commenting on that, because it is speculative whether it has a basis—does not the Minister agree that the problem arises partly due to the location of the research into renewables at Harwell? It is dominated there by the nuclear interests which are believed to be hostile to wave technology because it offers the only potential competition with nuclear power. It is said that it is like putting King Herod in charge of Barnardo's. Would it not be prudent to move that small research unit outside of that influence?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I have heard of the suspicions mentioned by the noble Lord and I have also heard the witticism quoted before. The Government have always strongly rejected claims of bias against the technology support unit because of its link with the Atomic Energy Authority. However, the Renewable Energy Advisory Group, which is currently conducting a review of renewable energy, is considering whether there should be a fully independent renewables agency.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, in answer to my noble friend's question the noble Lord said that the review of wave power was part of a general review of energy research. In view of the increased environmental considerations, can we take it that the result of that research will be increased emphasis on looking into alternative forms of energy as a whole?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, yes, it will have that emphasis. The result of the general review will be available in the first part of this year.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, before I ask my supplementary question, perhaps I may declare an interest. I advise a company called Applied Research and Technology which is presently engaged in studying the design of the well-known Professor Alan Wells, who is much respected in this area of work. Will my noble friend bear in mind that there is no monopoly of wisdom in the development of wave power? Can he give me an assurance that Applied Research and Technology, which is shortly to introduce a prototype as a lead-on from its present exercise, will receive every encouragement and assistance, as it has done until now, from the Department of Energy in the furtherance of this exercise?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for acknowledging the help that my department has given the ART team and the device. I can confirm that that encouragement and help will continue.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House why wave power was not included in the recent list of renewables given by the Minister, Mr. Moynihan, for consideration by the Government? Is he aware that I asked the Minister in the department about that but he could not give me an answer?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I can only add that as the review which is to be announced shortly is not ready, there is nothing I can presently say on the subject. Work is going ahead. It would be unreasonable to include something before it is known whether the technology is viable.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, can my noble friend advise the House of Her Majesty's the Government's views on an alternative source of renewable energy; namely, tidal power?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I believe that to be a separate question although it is linked. My noble friend will have to table a Question on the subject.

Lord Hutch of Lusby

My Lords, I was referring to the statement made by the Minister, Mr. Moynihan, which included a set of renewables but did not include wave energy. If the noble Lord cannot answer the question today, perhaps he will write to me and let me know why it was that wave energy was not included in the statement.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I do not pretend to know why wave power was not specifically mentioned. I cannot do other than provide the rather speculative answer that I gave to the noble Lord. Work continues on the review of wave energy, so the matter is not being ignored. As regards the detail of the noble Lord's question, I shall be pleased to write to him.