Supplementary memorandum submitted by
Professor Richard J Brook, Chief Executive, Engineering and Physical
Sciences Research Council, following the Evidence Session of 28
Thank you for your letter and the set of questions
which the Science and Technology Committee would wish to put in
connection with the Committee's Wave and Tidal Energy Inquiry.
I much welcomed the opportunity to meet the Committee yesterday
and hope that in view of the urgent timescale I may be allowed
to respond to the following questions directly and relatively
1. There are a large number of potential
approaches to exploiting wave and tidal energy. When selecting
research projects to support, how do you choose potentially successful
technologies without wasting either good ideas or taxpayers' money?
2. Do you feel it is better to support
a wide range of technologies with some funding, or fund a few
schemes/devices very thoroughly?
3. Does the UK have sufficient facilities
in terms of physical resources (for example, wave tanks) and skilled
personnel to develop an effective wave and tidal industry?
4. Many of those who have submitted evidence
to the inquiry believe that the UK needs a national wave and tidal
energy test facility: a site with pre-granted planning permission,
a link to the national grid, and appropriate computer monitoring
facilities. Would you agree that such a facility is needed?
The four items are:
1. The EPSRC relies on Peer Review in seeking
to select "potentially successful technology". While
recognising the criticisms which can be made of this process,
the Council has in recent years made systematic efforts to refine
such decision making in part through a more formal selection process
for the peer reviewers (the College system) in part by providing
applicants with the opportunity to respond to the comments of
peer reviewers, and in part through a more formal evaluation of
the research portfolios which result from a series of peer review
Above the individual project level the Council
also on an occasional basis selects particular subject areas for
concentrated attention; this arises in particular for multi-disciplinary
topics where the responsive mode may be less successful in bringing
forward proposals of the highest quality. Such managed programmes
have arisen in renewable energy in the case of fuel cells and
photo-voltaics. There have not been specific programmes relating
to wave and tidal energy. The selection of such programmes is
reviewed by Council on an annual basis in response to bids put
forward from the eight EPSRC programme areas following wide consultation
within the academic and user communities.
2. The EPSRC sees it as one of its responsibilities
to achieve a degree of concentration and focus in the allocation
of support funds. As I observed, however, in my comments to the
Committee, the energy sector is one where such concentration has
been traditionally difficult owing to the diversity of opportunity,
the existence of persuasive product champions, and the very many
uncertainties which arise because of the sensitivity to social,
environmental and commercial considerations. The EPSRC has therefore
sought to follow a mixed pattern of support namely, concentration
on specific themes through managed programmes, eg fuel cells,
accompanied by a responsive mode system within which principle
investigators can put forward proposals of their own choosing.
3. My immediate impression is that the UK
has sufficient facilities to undertake initial studies of the
merits of different renewable energy proposals; the difficulty
arises where promising work must be taken to the next stage and
where larger scale trials become crucial. It is here that interaction
between a number of support agencies should be seen as beneficial.
4. I can certainly understand that product
champions for wave and tidal energy would wish to see a national
test facility. I have no doubt also that such a facility lies
squarely on the road between initial research and the final realisation
of a commercial system. It is however important to set this possibility
against the alternative energy generation systems and to seek
an optimal distribution of support across the alternative methods.
It may well be that an office such as the Energy Technology Support
Unit would be able to provide the background information needed
for the making of such a decision.
29 March 2001