ERKC

Energy Research Knowledge Centre

United Kingdom

Research themes and prioritisation

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The Energy Bill 2012–2013 aims to close a number of coal and nuclear power stations over the next two decades and to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. It also includes financial incentives to reduce energy demand. Government climate change targets are to produce 30 % of electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and to cut greenhouse gas emissions: 50 % by 2025 and 80 % by 2050, in both cases compared to 1990 levels.

Another major tool for improving and securing the energy infrastructure in England and Wales is the 2008 Planning Act. Associated with this are six National Policy Statements (NPSs). The first (EN-1) is an overarching document setting out the government’s energy policy and explaining the need for a new energy infrastructure. The other five NPSs deal with: fossil fuel generating stations (EN-2), renewable energy infrastructure (EN-3), gas supply infrastructure and oil pipelines (EN-4), electricity network infrastructure (EN-5), and nuclear power generation (EN-6).

The most important priorities for the future, as set out in the Energy Programme of the Research Councils UK (RCUK), are

  • Securing energy supply by funding research to define future energy supply options, including nuclear fusion, hydrogen and renewables.
  • Low carbon innovation in cooperation with the Energy Technologies Institute, the Technology Strategy Board, Department of Energy and Climate Change and Carbon Trust through the Low Carbon Innovation Group to ensure that deployment of alternative energy technologies is informed by physical, economic, social and natural sciences research.
  • Enhance understanding of the social, environmental and economic implications of future energy options such as the sustainability of Carbon Capture and Storage.
  • Reduce energy consumption and demand through the development of behavioural, governance, market and technological advances informed by a whole system understanding. 

Organisation of research

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The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has overall responsibility for the government’s energy and climate change mitigation policy. DECC also has a central role in coordinating energy-related innovation across the government. Low-carbon innovation activities also are facilitated by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) and the Carbon Trust, a funding organisation.

The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) plays a central role in the UK’s innovation strategy: it supports R&D projects financially and can be considered a Research Council for industry. The TSB also oversees a number of strategic Technology Innovation Centres (TICs), also known as Catapult Centres. One of these, the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult Centre, will focus on technologies applicable to offshore wind, tidal and wave power. It was anticipated to open in spring 2013.

The Low Carbon Innovation Coordination Group (LCICG) brings together the key UK public sector-backed funders of low-carbon innovation: DECC, the ETI, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the TSB, Research Councils UK, the Carbon Trust, the Scottish government, Scottish Enterprise and others.

The Research Councils are the main public investors in basic research in the UK, with interests ranging from biomedicine and particle physics to the environment, engineering and economic research. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the most relevant with regard to energy research. Research Council funding is largely allocated through grants to universities and Research Council Institutes, where most public-sector research is carried out. The EPSRC invests more than €920 million a year in a broad range of subjects – from mathematics to materials science, and from information technology to structural engineering.


Figure 1: The most important organisations in the UK’s energy research infrastructure.

Programmes and budgets

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Budget overview

The UK has significantly increased its commitment to advancing energy technology in the last seven years. Government spending on energy RD&D increased considerably: from approximately €85 million in 2005 to almost €185 million in 2008 and €545 million in 2010 (Rounded figures deduced from ‘Energy Policies of IEA Countries. The United Kingdom Review 2012’, Fig.46, p.158.). Much of the funding has been directed to technology demonstration and pre-commercial deployment.

Table 1: The main energy research programmes in United Kingdom

Programmes and initiatives

Research Council UK Energy Programme

The RCUK Energy Programme aims to position the UK to meet its energy and environmental targets and policy goals through world-class research and training. Led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Energy Programme brings together the work of the EPSRC and that of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). The Energy Programme is investing more than €718 million in research and skills to pioneer a low-carbon future. This builds on an investment of €963 million over the eight years up to December 2011.

Process, Environment and Sustainability Programme (PES)

The PES supports research and training in process engineering (34 %) (the design, operation and maintenance of processes for chemicals and materials manufacture), the built environment (25 %), structural and ground engineering (11 %), water engineering (15 %), waste and pollution (4 %), and transport operations and management (11 %). It is estimated that around 70 % of the total PES budget (€296.4 million) concerns energy-related research.

UK Magnetic Fusion Research Programme

This research area relates to the six-year investment made by the EPSRC at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) for the continuation of the UK Magnetic Fusion Programme. The grant provides UK funding for the Joint European Torus (JET) and for the upgrade of MAST, a ‘spherical tokamak’. It also funds experiments on MAST; participation in the JET programme with other European fusion scientists; improving materials for fusion power stations through theory and modelling; and preparation and design of technologies for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), which will supersede JET. The total budget is €188 million for the period 2010–2016.

SUPERGEN

SUPERGEN is part of the Research Councils UK Energy Programme. Its aim is to contribute to the UK’s environmental emissions targets through a radical improvement in the sustainability of the UK’s power generation and supply. With the first consortia launched in 2003, SUPERGEN now supports eight Consortia and five Hubs, and represents the focus of the Energy Programme’s significant contribution to renewable energy research. Projects started 2003 and some are planned to be completed in 2017. Grants assigned so far amount to €106 million.

Energy Networks

This research topic focuses on the effect of increases in the use of renewable energy sources on the existing energy supply network, and how future network technologies will deal with these challenges. It includes small- and medium-scale generation networks. Power electronics research into the fabrication and engineering of circuits for high-power and high-voltage applications is covered. Start and end dates of the projects vary between 2005 and 2016. The total budget is €60.7 million.

Materials Engineering – Metals and Alloys

This programme covers the understanding, modelling and processing of metals and alloys with respect to their properties and behaviour, and the development of novel materials. It has intrinsic connections with other research areas, including Resource Efficiency, Manufacturing Technologies and Performance, and Inspection of Mechanical Structures and Systems. Start and end dates of the projects vary between 2005 and 2016. The total budget is €55.9 million.

Materials for Energy Applications

Covers the synthesis, characterisation and theoretical understanding of functional materials for energy applications. This includes fundamental studies into potential materials for photovoltaics, fuel cells, batteries and other energy storage materials. Included in this area are studies into polymeric, complex oxide, nanoionic, electrocaloric, magnetocaloric and porous materials for potential future energy applications. The research covered in this area will evolve as new technologies and materials properties emerge. This area only includes research into materials systems for current and future energy technologies; it does not include technology development, which is covered in related research areas. Start and end dates of the projects vary between 2006 and 2016. The total budget is €46.6 million.

Energy Efficiency – End Use Energy Demand

This programme embraces energy efficiency measures and reduction in demand for energy, energy services and mobility, all of which will contribute to reducing carbon emissions from energy use. It includes research extending from the built environment to industrial processes and products, from materials to design and from markets and regulation to organisational and individual behaviour. Start and end dates of the projects vary between 2005 and 2015. The total budget is €35.6 million.

Solar Technology

This covers R&D of devices to harness incident solar radiation and to convert it to other forms of energy or use it directly. This includes solar heating, solar cooling and all PV technologies. This topic also includes socio-economic and environmental issues related to solar technologies, e.g. the public acceptability of large-scale deployment of solar cells in the built environment. Start and end dates of the projects vary between 2005 and 2015. The total budget is €30.7 million.

Nuclear Fission

Nuclear energy research in the UK declined seriously during the 1990s. In recent years it has been recognised that nuclear power has an important role to play in the UK’s future low-carbon energy mix and the government has recently paved the way for new nuclear plants. This programme focuses on power generation, including waste cleanup, decommissioning, regulation, public acceptability, existing operations, new nuclear build, advanced reactor technology, the fuel cycle and geological waste disposal. Start and end dates of the projects vary between 2005 and 2016. The total budget is €30.5 million.

Conventional Generation and Combustion

The research here covers the chemical reaction mechanisms involved in combustion processes at fundamental, generic and applied levels – the latter with direct application to coal, gas and oil combustion in power generation. Other topics are: fuels for aero-derivative and stationary gas turbines, liquid and gaseous fuels in automotive engines, burners and incinerators for a variety of uses, fires and explosions. This topic also covers the design and development of new plant and machinery, and research on the improved operation of existing plant for conventional power generation from fossil fuels. Monitoring of plant condition within the generation process is included in the theme. This topic also includes the development of internal combustion engines, but excludes carbon capture and storage. Start and end dates of the projects vary between 2007 and 2016. The total budget is €30.2 million.

Carbon Capture and Storage

Research into the capture of carbon dioxide from power station and other sources, including air capture, CO2 transport, options for the use and storage of CO2, and public engagement. Next-generation capture technologies will be a major element of this research topic, including adsorbents, chemical looping, ceramic membranes and nanotubes. Projects crossing Research Council boundaries are supported through the Energy Programme. Start and end dates of the projects vary between 2005 and 2014. The total budget is €27.9 million.

Whole Energy Systems

This area concerns the socio-techno-economic analysis of the whole UK energy system, from fuel supply through to end use. A key technique is the use of models of the whole system and its various parts to develop scenarios showing how the energy system will evolve and how a transformation to low-carbon energy, combined with increased energy efficiency, might be achieved. Start and end dates of the projects vary between 2006 and 2016. The total budget is €24.9 million.

Fuel Cell Technology

The study of electrochemical devices which generate electron flow through an internal redox reaction. This research includes materials of construction, the fuels themselves, and the use of fuel cells, plus socio-economic and environmental issues related to fuel cell technologies. Start and end dates of the projects vary between 2006 and 2016. The total budget is €24.8 million.

Bioenergy

This topic aims to accelerate the development of bioenergy resources, given the significant role that bioenergy is expected to make in allowing the UK to meet its 2050 emissions targets. At present most UK capability is in Generation 1 and Generation 2 biomass, but there is increased emphasis on Generation 3 (algae). Future strategy for this theme will concentrate on supporting a SUPERGEN Bioenergy Hub. The SUPERGEN Hub will be aligned with the on-going Sustainable Bioenergy centre (BSBEC) programme of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the environmental research supported by NERC (Natural Environment Research Council). Start and end dates of the projects vary between 2006 and 2015. The total budget is €22.9 million.

Hydrogen and Alternative Energy Vectors

This topic relates to:

  • The study of alternative energy carriers such as hydrogen, and the use of these in sustainable energy systems;
  • The generation of alternative energy carriers; and
  • Storage of alternative energy carriers, including the synthesis, characterisation and production of new and existing storage materials and devices together with their subsequent applications.

It also includes socio-economic and environmental issues related to the above technologies, such as the effects on society of moving to a hydrogen economy. There are strong links between this topic and the Fuel Cell Technology programme described above. Start and end dates of the projects vary between 2006 and 2015. The total budget is €20 million.

Marine Wave and Tidal (EPSRC)

This topic involves the study of devices, systems and components needed to capture and use the kinetic or oscillatory energy of bodies of water. It. also includes socio-economic and environmental issues related to wave and tidal technologies, e.g. the public acceptability and possible environmental impact of large wave and tidal schemes. Start and end dates of the projects vary between 2006 and 2016. The total budget is €18.1 million.

Energy Storage

This topic includes electrical and heat storage as well as other forms such as kinetic energy storage. Also covered are the synthesis, characterisation and production of new and existing energy storage materials and devices, together with their subsequent applications and any socio-economic implications of their use. Studies of the coupling between energy storage and intermittent sources of energy fall within this area, but are also relevant to the Whole Energy Systems programme referred to above. There are close links between this topic and the Materials for Energy Applications programme. Start and end dates of the projects vary between 2006 and 2015. The total budget is €10 million.

Wind Power

The research activities under this topic concern the study, design, development and research of machines to harness the kinetic energy of large volumes of moving air, whether natural or forced. The topic includes materials technology and machinery components, plus socio-economic and environmental issues related to wind power, such as the public acceptability and possible environmental impact of large onshore wind farms. Start and end dates of the projects vary between 2008 and 2014. The total budget is €5.6 million.

Offshore Wind Programme

The ETI’s focus for its Offshore Wind Programme is on achieving significant cost reductions and enhanced reliability for offshore wind. Cost, reliability and maintenance are paramount to accelerating the offshore wind market further and the ETI has commissioned projects in all three areas. Some of the more specific aims are to increase deployment to 18 GW by 2020 and towards 50 GW by 2050, and to reduce electricity costs so that they are competitive with onshore wind by 2020 and with conventional generation by 2050. The first projects under the programme were launched in 2009. Budget figures are only available per project. Seven completed or ongoing projects in 2013 amount to €52 million.

Marine Energy Programme

The ETI’s Marine Energy Programme addresses key industry technology challenges by supporting sea trials of near-commercial marine energy systems and development and demonstration projects for key technologies, systems and tools. The aims of the programme are to increase deployment of marine energy to 2 GW by 2020 and towards 30 GW by 2050; to reduce electricity costs to be competitive with established renewables by 2020 and with conventional generation by 2050; and to increase unit availability (not including weather risks) to 90 % by 2020 and 99 % by 2050. The first projects under the programme were launched in 2009. Budget figures are only available per project. Six completed or ongoing projects in 2013 amount to €31 million.

Carbon Capture and Storage Programme

 This programme aims  to accelerate the implementation of CCS technology on UK fossil-fuel power stations and other major stationary CO2 sources by demonstrating innovative technology which reduces both capital costs and the energy needed to run the CCS plant. This programme also aims to reduce the risks and costs of CO2 storage by advancing knowledge of potential UK storage sites, improving monitoring and efficiency of use, and improving the reliability, flexibility and operability of a fully developed chain of CCS assets. The first projects under the programme were launched in 2009. The budget for seven completed or ongoing projects in 2013 amount to €26.9 million.

Energy Storage and Distribution Programme

The aims of this ETI programme are to:

  • Adapt networks to enable a higher penetration of renewable and distributed generation, with good security and quality of supply;
  • Manage networks to provide greater flexibility between supply and demand to offset high rates of CO2 production at times of peak demand; and
  • Reduce CO2 emissions and other environmental impacts of existing networks.

The first projects under the programme were launched in 2009. So far, the ETI expects to invest €27 million for seven projects.

National govermment departments

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Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) was created in 2008 by merging energy policy and climate change policy into one department. It has overall responsibility for the government’s energy and climate change mitigation policy.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

Defra covers areas such as sustainable development and the green economy, environmental protection and pollution control. The department has direct responsibility only for England, but works closely with the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)

BIS is the department for economic growth, investing in skills and education to promote trade, boost innovation and help people to start and grow businesses. BIS also protects consumers and reduces the impact of regulation. BIS is supported by 45 agencies and public bodies, among which are the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), UK Atomic Energy Authority (AEA), and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

National research programme management agencies

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Research Councils UK (RCUK)

Basic research into new technologies in the UK is undertaken by the Research Councils via their Energy Programme, which has an annual budget of approximately €126 million and is designed to deliver a broad spectrum of energy-related research and postgraduate training. This includes support for the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC). The multidisciplinary basic and applied research covers a full spectrum of energy areas: renewables, nuclear, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and low-carbon transport, as well as related social and economic policy.

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The EPSRC is the main UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences, from mathematics to materials science, and from information technology to structural engineering. It is principally funded through the government’s Science Budget by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Its main themes are: digital economy, energy, engineering, global uncertainties, healthcare technologies, ICTs, living with environmental change, manufacturing the future, mathematical sciences, physical sciences, and research infrastructure.

UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA)

The UKAEA is a non-departmental public body within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Originally formed in 1954 to carry out nuclear research for the UK government, the Authority now manages the UK fusion research programme and operates the Joint European Torus (JET) on behalf of the European Fusion Development Agreement (EFDA).

Funding organisations at national level

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Technology Strategy Board (TSB)

The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) is an independent public body reporting to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. Its main focus is to support innovation and innovative businesses in the UK. The TSB oversees the Catapult Centres, which are geared towards innovation in specific technology areas.

Energy Research Partnership (ERP)

The Energy Research Partnership is a high-level forum bringing together key stakeholders and funders in energy research, development, demonstration and deployment in government, industry and academia, plus other interested bodies. The ERP has been designed to give strategic direction to UK energy innovation, seeking to influence the development of new technologies and enabling timely, focused investments. Its remit covers the whole energy system, including supply (nuclear, fossil fuels, renewables), infrastructure, and the demand side (built environment, energy efficiency, transport).

Energy Technologies Institute (ETI)

The ETI is a partnership between global industries and the government which brings together projects and partnerships to accelerate the development of affordable, clean and secure technologies to help the UK meet its legally binding 2050 climate change targets. The ETI makes targeted commercial investments in nine programme areas: offshore wind, marine, distributed energy, buildings, energy storage and distribution, smart cities and heat, carbon capture and storage, transport, and bioenergy. The aim is to fund a selected number of large-scale projects in the range €6–31 million in each programme area. The funding is split 50:50 between the government and private-sector partners.

Carbon Trust

The Carbon Trust provides specialist support to help business and the public sector boost business returns by cutting carbon emissions, saving energy and commercialising low-carbon technologies.

The Low Carbon Innovation Coordination Group (LCICG)

The LCICG brings together the key UK public sector-backed funders of low-carbon innovation. These include the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Energy Technologies Institute, the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, the Technology Strategy Board, Research Councils UK, the Carbon Trust, the Scottish government, Scottish Enterprise and others. The group’s aim is to maximise the impact of UK public-sector funding for low-carbon energy by building a shared understanding of innovation needs in the UK, by coordinating organisations’ investment plans, by improving the communication to innovators of innovation needs and funding opportunities, and by sharing best practices and learning between organisations.