Examination of Witnesses (Questions 152
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002
152. Thank you very much. I see it says you are
all energy technology researchers. That is an encompassing term,
but you have been sitting in and you hear the nature of our inquiry.
Can I start off; you guys tried to get a lot of public and private
funds. How do you get on with it? What successes do you have in
accessing public and private funds? I know you have all got something
to say, if you could just, each of you perhaps, on that one say
something briefly? Perhaps you would start, Michael Graham.
(Professor Graham) Essentially I access
public funds and very little from private funds. This is partly
becauseI should say, I work in wind energy and wave energy
and tidal, etc. I have not been able to identify recently suitable
sources of funding from the wind industry, which is pretty well
non-existent now. It has been difficult to identify industrial
funding or private funding. I have had a very small amount of
it, but the bulk comes from government funding.
(Professor Strbac) My area of activity is electrical
power engineering and in the context of the debate of renewables,
I guess I would say that the area of work which I am involved
with is about integrating renewable generation into the electricity
system. I come from Electrical Energy and Power Systems Group
from UMIST which is one of the largest groups in the UK with also,
I think, significant international standing. We have been primarily
funded by research councils, European Union Framework 4, 5 and
now hoping to be active in Framework 6, DTI. Also we have got
a small number of projects which are directly funded from UK industry,
but all the projects which are funded by EPSRC are in collaboration
with industry in proportion, I think I would say, I guess about
80% would be public funding and say about 20% would be directly
153. Which industries?
(Professor Strbac) I work with all, if
you like, major parties in research, generating companies
154. Anybody that will touch your research, is
(Professor Strbac) Yes. That is my industry.
(Professor Acres) My background and interests are
in hydrogen and fuel cells. I can speak for both industry and
academia in my visiting professor role. I suppose in the context
of Johnson Matthey, over a fairly long period, we have had substantial
support from DTI, UK Government and in the Birmingham context,
particularly with hydrogen technology, they have been quite successful
both with the commission, more recently EPSRC. That is not to
say that both parties would not have liked to have had more and
as the technology progresses, the issue which you raised before,
it is one thing to carry out research, it is another one to exploit
it. I think if you compare the UK funding with that of Japan in
these particular areas, then there is a much greater proportion
of the money that Government provides in America and Japan really
is targeted at the exploitation than there is in the UK. I think
that is one of the weaknesses. But in the context of research,
Birmingham, Johnson Matthey have been fairly good.
(Professor Jones) My area of expertise is electronic
materials and in the context of this photovoltaics. Sources of
funding, I suppose, are a mixed bag. We get government money through
EPSRC, we also get DTI money, but in fact the biggest investment
in our group is from industry. It dwarves EPSRC money, it is from
BP and it is quite an innovative programme.
155. Everybody in your field feels hard done
by, do you think you are relatively hard done bytry and
be as objective as you cancompared with other fields of
research? Do you have a feel for that at all?
(Professor Graham) Perhaps we can each
speak separately, because they are different areas and they differ.
But the funding, I find, wind energy is in a particular position
because onshore wind is seen as a mature industry and as has already
been discussed, unfortunately the manufacturing industry has disappeared
from the country. So it is actually very difficult to get research
grants for the technology for onshore wind. I have currently got
research grants for offshore wind, which is principally a marine
problem. Wave energy is at the other extreme. There is a lot of
uncertainty about it, but clearly there is no industry as yet.
I feel the funding is very fragmented and perhaps reiterating
what was said by the previous submission, there is a need for
some sort of coherence really in energy funding policy from the
Government through the EPSRC, which is where quite a bit of the
funding comes from. We get funding from the European Commission
which is through these big, fairly short, programmes. But they
are very bigI have coordinated one with about 10 partners
in it and five countries in wind energy, which was quite successful
but very short. I think the UK needs to get a coordinated policy
of funding and perhaps influence EPSRC to look that way. I can
give some other examples, in that I work on marine technology
of the conventional offshore oil platforms, for about 25 years,
and there, there was a very successful policy operating which
had a marine technology directorate and so on. It started off
very well and it basically brought a lot of academics together
with industry and I think the worry was always that it becomes
a sort of cosy cartel and towards the end people think it is not
very efficient, but it certainly got the coherent development
of research for answering the North Sea oil problem. I would like
to see the same approach taken for renewables.
156. How sensitive is the system to bright new
ideas, particularly from younger people in the field?
(Professor Graham) EPSRC always asks
now for adventure in research and ticking those boxes is requested
if you are refereeing these applications, but it is just one of
the items being assessed and probably the most important are the
track record and the scientific quality of what is being looked
at. Potentially the system is sensitive to this, but I am not
sure that it is reallyit is a very doubtful area. Once
again, it is the issue of picking winners. As a referee you can
see all sorts of exciting things, but you worry that there is
a big risk associated with them.
(Professor Strbac) Could I just add a few words on
this? In our particular case, I think we have been reasonably
successful with getting research funds. In fact, there is now
a position where we cannot respond to opportunities which are
out there simply because we are at the limit of our capacity.
That is what, in fact, worries me a lot in the context of actual
UK responding on the ground to the climate change challenge and
also trying to meet the targets which are being set. Large research
groupsand there are only a few of those in UK in a similar
areaare really working to their capacity. We have been
successful, as I mentioned, in actually getting the research support,
but in our field we feel that the research base needs to be rebuilt.
The capacity needs to be built. I would agree with previous speakers,
arguing for a longer term coordinating policy which would actually
enable development of research, get researchers in and then actually
see the developments on the ground. Just one example to illustrate
how difficult the position is in my particular field is that if
you just take the sort of rough numbers as to what we need to
do to achieve the 2010 targets (never mind 2020) and obviously
wind potentially playing an enormously important role in that
area, we need to build about eight gigawatts of new plant. If
you take an average number, saying that perhaps one scheme would
be about 20 megawatts, we would need to be building on a weekly
basis the schemes to get there. We just do not have the capacity
to do that. I could perhaps elaborate later on, but I do not want
157. Thank you. Anyone else? Then we will move
on to Brian.
(Professor Jones) Answering your question
about are we lucky in terms of funding. In my context, industrial
funding is substantial and I think we are quite lucky. But in
terms of research council funding, it is very hard work. It is
very time consuming and very onerous to get relatively small sums
of money. In fact, I think the industrial funding we have got
is funding a project which really should be funded from research
councils because it is actually quite long term research. It is
not a short term technology development.
(Professor Acres) I could quote from Rex Harris's
Birmingham University submission to yourselves. There are too
many government agencies involved in this area and the picture
is confusing. I think, as you are probably aware, to increase
the chances of success when you submit a proposal, whether it
be to a research council, DTI or the Commission, you need a considerable
amount of information on what it is they are looking for. So you
either have to be a member of one of their advisory committees,
which takes up a fair amount of time, or you have to spend a lot
of time in Brussels or next door talking to them. In my experience,
if you do not do that, your chances of success are remote and
you can spend a lot of time and money on preparing proposals.
Of course, in the UK at the moment, as you are well aware, you
have got three research councils, three or four ministries, the
Carbon Trust, the Energy Saving Trust, various development agencies
that all see this area as an opportunity to create business.
158. Do you get home much?
(Professor Acres) Yes. So it is a challenge
and, in my experience, trying to persuade one or other of the
ministries to act as a focus for it all, they say "Not us.
You are responsible". Not me personally.
Chairman: That is very, very helpful what you
have just said. Brian?
159. One of you has indicated that you have had
EU Framework Programme money. What about the other three of you?
(Professor Jones) We have also had from
the previous one.
(Professor Graham) I think I was the one possibly
who indicated that. But the EU has been, in my opinion, very good
in this respect and the UK perhaps lags the EU a bit.