Wave energy scientists fear cut in research cash

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FEARS that the Government may scale down its support for renewable energy came to the fore yesterday with the publication of two reports on the state of Britain's green energy resources.

The first report from the Renewable Energy Advisory Group urges government intervention in the electricity market to iron out distortions that count against the development of embryonic technologies to generate power from wind, tides, crops and the sun.

The second is a comprehensive review of wave energy, which, when read alongside the REAG report, appears to place wave power in a vulnerable position if renewable energy funding is destined for cuts. It was produced by the Energy Technology Support Unit, operating from the UK Atomic Energy Authority's Harwell laboratories in Oxfordshire.

It examines the technical feasibility and commercial potential of the five main wave energy devices, and concludes that these are 'unlikely to generate electricity competitively in the short to medium term'. It adds that they all require considerable research and development to achieve their full promise. The REAG report says the group 'does not see any justification for further significant public R & D expenditure' on offshore wave energy devices.

The fear among wave energy researchers is that the Government may use these conclusions as an excuse to scale down its support, without acknowledging other parts of both reports that look further ahead to a time when wave energy could make a valuable contribution to the nation's energy needs. Neither report suggests that the Government reduce its funding for wave energy research.

Jeremy Sainsbury, a REAG member, said yesterday that the group was not saying 'forget wave energy', simply that it expected other renewable sources to become commercially viable sooner. The REAG document recommends that the Government underwrite a 'floor level' target of just 1,500 megawatts of the nation's electricity to be generated from renewable sources by 2000. It is estimated that this would cost householders an extra pounds 10.50 a year on electricity bills.

Environmental groups and most renewable energy experts agree that a target of double this is not unrealistic - the current target is already 1,000 megawatts. In April, the Commons Energy Select Committee recommended a target of 3-4,000 megawatts by 2000. Some members of the group feared that it might reflect badly on the Government should renewable projects fail to meet a more ambitious target figure.

A Review of Wave Energy, Energy Technology Support Unit. Telephone 0235 821000.

Renewable Energy Advisory Group report, Department of Trade and Industry. Telephone 071 238 3042.