Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council


  The mission of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is to support basic strategic and applied research and related postgraduate training in the engineering and physical sciences. In allocating those funds, it is required to pay due attention to meeting the needs of the users of research and training in industry, commerce, government and the service sector and to underpin the quality of life of the UK's citizens. The EPSRC budget for 2000-02 is £420 million.

  EPSRC allocates funds for research and training through Programmes covering the core physical sciences (Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry); generic technologies (Materials and Information Technology & Computer Science) and Engineering (General Engineering, Innovative Manufacturing and Infrastructure & Environment). A team of Programme Managers within EPSRC is responsible for managing the grant budget of those Programmes as determined by the EPSRC Council. The total annual investment in the three Engineering Programmes in 2000-02 will be approximately £110 million.

  Research into new and renewable energy technology, which includes wave and tidal energy, forms an important part of the portfolio of research targeted at improving quality of life in the UK through improvements to sustainability in energy generation. Wave and tidal power research is only one element of that portfolio which also includes research on photovoltaics, fuel cells, wind power, biomass and other technology approaches such as the hydrogen economy. Current investment in academic research projects in Wave & Tidal Energy is just in excess of £1.1 million.


  EPSRC's primary mechanism to support research projects in UK universities is through research grants. The EPSRC has encouraged academic research in all forms of renewable energy through both the "Responsive Mode" where the subject of the research is driven primarily by the applicant, or through the "Managed Mode" where applications are invited by EPSRC in specific priority areas. In both mechanisms, all applications are subjected to Peer Review by a combination of referees selected from the EPSRC "College" of referees and at least one referee suggested by the applicant. Projects are then selected for funding from a priority order identified by an invited Panel of experts based on the referees' report and a written response to those comments from the applicant.

  Since 1994 renewable energy has been an identified priority within the EPSRC Programme primarily due to the increasing importance of the field within the context of the drive to improve the sustainability of energy generation within the UK. As a result, renewable energy research has received support through both the responsive and managed mode. The EPSRC has in particular supported different aspects of renewable energy through a number of Managed Programmes. A key feature of the Managed Mode is that priority areas can benefit from a ring-fenced budget and generally higher success rates that is the case in the response mode. A second feature of Managed Programmes is that the research objectives are multidisciplinary and this is reflected by the fact that the budget for managed programmes is generally allocated from a number of EPSRC Programme areas. The multidisciplinary nature of renewable energy research means that funding for the area has been provided by the Engineering, Materials, Chemistry and Physics Programmes within the EPSRC. The Managed Programmes in renewable energy since 1995 are as follows:

    —  Fuel Cells—1994 to 1997

    —  Photovoltaics—1995 to 1998

    —  Energy Storage & Recovery—1997 to 1998

    —  Renewable & New Energy Technologies (RNET)—1999 to present

  The current portfolio of renewable energy projects by grant value, as indicated in the chart below, reflects this past history of funding priorities.

  A major priority of the current RNET Programme is to consolidate renewable energy research within one major Programme—annual funding for RNET was around £4 million in 2000-01. A further aim was to broaden the base of funding to include all aspects of renewable energy, including wave and tidal energy. A total of 18 Wave Energy projects were received in 2000-01 in the RNET Programme resulting in 10 awards at a success rate of 55 per cent.

  The chart above shows total year-by-year commitment across all topics in renewable energy.

  The attached annexes summarise information from the EPSRC grants database. Annex 1 gives a summary of active grants as at January 2001 across all supported topics in renewable energy. Annex 2 gives more specific details of those projects that are directly related to Wave Energy. This information is gathered from the entire portfolio and hence will include grants funded through both managed and responsive grant mechanisms as outlined above.


  The research funded in wave energy falls into a number of areas of generation technology. However, beyond proof of concept designs and simple prototyping, the scale and cost of wave energy devices is beyond the scope of EPSRC's remit. However, a close liaison is maintained with colleagues in the DTI to ensure EPSRC activities complement those funded through the DTI New and Renewable Energy Technology Programme, which can provide funding for full-scale prototype and demonstrator projects.

  A primary focus of the EPSRC funded projects is on the design and development of devices to harness power from waves in an efficient and reliable way. A number of groups around the UK combine this information with studies to predict and model the sea surface at a given point and time. EPSRC also supports related research on wave forecasting which is not shown in these data. In addition to the current projects, three wave energy grants have recently been completed in this area. The final assessment of these projects indicates that past funding has been effective in contributing to the advancement of the technology.

  The EPSRC recognises the importance and impact of renewable energy research in the UK. It is currently restructuring its research programme in sustainable energy generation with the intention of encouraging the submission of more adventurous, multidisciplinary research projects, improving academic links with the users of the research and facilitating the development of a critical mass of researchers in this important field. This will include a consultation with the academic community to assess the success of the current programmes and establish new research themes to be incorporated into a new programme. A consultation meeting will take place with colleagues from both academia and industry on 29 June 2001.

  Key inputs to that meeting will be a review of the quality and impact of the projects funded to date as well as input from a number of sources including the Energy Foresight Panel and EPSRC's own recent Energy Sector Evaluation. It is anticipated that EPSRC support for sustainable energy research will rise to in excess of £6 million in 2001-02 with greater emphasis being given to large research consortia tackling key research issues in collaboration with the users of that research in industry and commerce.

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