Select Committee on Science and Technology Fourth Report


The Science and Technology Committee has agreed to the following Report:



1. We decided to conduct an inquiry to establish what the UK is investing in research, development and demonstration (RD&D) in the fields of low and non-carbon forms of energy and how it is directed. The inquiry was announced on 16 May 2002 with the following terms of reference:

2. The purpose of inquiry is to highlight RD&D issues during the preparation of the Energy White Paper and to influence its implementation following its publication on 24 February 2003. Our predecessor Committee conducted a short inquiry at the end of the last Parliament on Wave and Tidal Energy.[1] We take forward some of the issues raised in that inquiry. Some aspects of energy policy are devolved and the energy markets in Scotland and Northern Ireland are distinct from that in England and Wales, although the DTI's support for research and innovation is nationwide. Our recommendations apply principally to the UK Government.

3. The importance of climate change and the economic importance of the energy markets has rightly been reflected by considerable Parliamentary activity. As well as our predecessor Committee's Wave and Tidal Energy inquiry, notable reports have been published by the Trade and Industry Committee on security of supply and the Environmental Audit Committee on renewable energy.[2] The Government's Foresight programme has made a valuable contribution in recent years through its Energy and Natural Environment Panel. Our aim is not to duplicate the work undertaken by these committees but to emphasise the importance of innovation in meeting our future energy needs and to identify how the process can be strengthened.

4. We have used the term non-carbon fuel in the title of this report. This is to be interpreted broadly to include low-carbon and carbon-reducing technologies, reflecting the short-term imperative to reduce carbon emissions. Thus the technologies considered include:

  • clean(er) fossil fuel power generation;
  • renewable and carbon-neutral sources of power generation;
  • nuclear power (fission and fusion);
  • carbon sequestration;
  • energy efficiency; and
  • cross-cutting technologies, including those concerned with electricity supply and transmission, and enabling technologies such as fuel cells and hydrogen.

5. Our inquiry has not considered transport fuels in any detail. Although they are responsible for 40% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by the UK, we have found it necessary to restrict the scope of an inquiry into a very broad subject. We note that even if electricity generation emitted no CO2, the UK would not achieve the desired 60% reduction in CO2 levels by 2050 recommended by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) in its 2000 report Energy—the Changing Climate without measures in the transport field.[3] Our discussions on fuel cells and the hydrogen economy are of course relevant to transport, and electrical power generated from renewable sources can be used for transport uses.

6. The use of the term "research, development and demonstration" recognises that attention should be given to all stages of the innovation process. We accept that this is not a simple linear process with discrete stages but breaking it down is necessary to identify the problems and obstacles in the innovation process. We will also consider barriers to commercialisation and features of the industry and the market that clearly act as barriers or disincentives to scientific and technological innovation.

7. We started our inquiry with a private seminar on 10 July 2002 and heard presentations from Professor John Chesshire; Dr Tariq Ali, Imperial College; Professor Dennis Anderson, Imperial College; Dr John Hassard, Imperial College; Mr Nick Otter, Alstom Power; and Professor Dave Elliott, the Open University.

8. We have received 55 written submissions. We held six oral evidence sessions between October 2002 and March 2003 from 14 sets of witnesses, representing the Research Councils, academic energy researchers, energy SMEs, the nuclear industry, NGOs, electricity transmission and distribution companies, building researchers and companies, oil and gas companies, and the Government. We made two visits relating to the inquiry: to Japan on 14-21 September 2002 and to the UK Atomic Energy Authority's fusion research facilities at Culham, Oxfordshire on 11 November 2002.

9. We are grateful to all those who have assisted with the inquiry, and in particular to our Specialist Advisers: Professor Dennis Anderson of Imperial College, London; Mr Nick Otter of Alstom Power, and Professor Michael Elves, former Director of the Office of Scientific and Educational Affairs, Glaxo Wellcome plc.


10. The scientific case for global warming has been made, principally by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In response to these concerns, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was agreed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and adopted in 1994. Under the Convention, all developed countries agreed to aim to return their greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2000. The Kyoto Protocol, agreed in December 1997, recognised that the Convention commitments could only be a first step in the international response to climate change. Developed countries agreed to targets that will reduce their overall emissions of a basket of six greenhouse gases (including CO2) by 5.2% below 1990 levels over the period 2008-12. These targets will be legally binding, and differentiated between Parties to the Convention. The European Union Member States agreed to a reduction of 8%, which will be distributed between Member States to reflect their national circumstances. The UK's target will be a 12.5% reduction. This forms part of the DTI's PSA target 4, which directs the Department to "improve the environment and the sustainable use of natural resources, including through the use of energy saving technologies, to help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5% from 1990 levels and moving towards a 20% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010".

11. The RCEP has argued that to make a significant impression on climate change "the Government should now adopt a strategy which puts the UK on a path to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by some 60% from current levels by about 2050".[4] This figure was accepted by the Prime Minister in his appearance before the Liaison Committee in January 2003.[5] The Energy White Paper, Our energy future—creating a low carbon future, affirms the Government's intention of meeting this target.[6] The RCEP concluded that such a reduction was possible using current technologies. Subsequently its members have acknowledged that they understated their case and that technological developments would improve the chances of reaching that target.

12. The effects of the Kyoto Protocol and increases in atmospheric CO2 have been studied by the UK Climate Impacts Programme, which is funded by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The programme has produced climate change scenarios, which suggest that to stabilise CO2 levels the UK would need to decrease emissions to 60-70% of their 1990 levels and that this would still result in a 2-3 degree increase in global temperature.[7] In this inquiry we have sought to establish how to enhance the role that scientific and technological innovation has in achieving decreasing the emissions through energy production and use, and the extent to which the policies pursued by the Government and the private sector on RD&D are facilitating the transition to a low carbon economy. In response to the RCEP report, the Government asked the Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU, now re-named the Strategy Unit) to conduct an energy review, which was published in February 2002. The Government responded with a consultation document published in May 2002. A White Paper originally scheduled for the end of 2002 was finally published on 24 February 2003.

The UK's energy mix and renewables

13. During the 1990s the UK replaced coal with gas as its principal source of electricity generation. Since gas generation results in less CO2 for a given power output, the UK is in a much stronger position than many other nations to achieve its Kyoto targets. It should be noted that the UK's CO2 emissions have been declining steadily over the past 30 years and thus any future reductions will be harder to achieve.

14. Reflecting an awareness that the source of electricity generation must change, the Government set a target of 10% of electricity generation by renewable technologies by 2010. Renewables are defined by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) as " those continuously available sources which do not rely on exhaustible fossil fuels". In 2000 they were responsible for 2.8% of electricity generation, comprising 1.4% hydroelectric, 0.2% onshore wind and 1.2% from other sources such as landfill gas, municipal waste combustion, sewage sludge digestion and energy crops.[8] The scope for increased hydroelectric generation is considered minimal due to limitations in suitable sites and environmental concerns.[9] Nuclear power generation was responsible for around 23% of electricity generation in 2001 but this will decline to 17-18% by 2010 and to 7-8% by 2020 unless new nuclear power stations are constructed.[10] The PIU report recommended that the Government's 10% renewables target for 2010 should be supplemented by a 20% target for 2020. In the White Paper, this has been become an "aspiration".[11] The Minister for Energy and Construction, Brian Wilson, told us that the 2020 aspiration would be easier to achieve than the 2010 target.[12]

15. We agree with the value of a target for renewable electricity generation but we must not lose sight of the principal objective, which is to introduce non-polluting, sustainable forms of energy on a large scale. It is important that Government thinking and policies are not hampered by arguments over what does or does not constitute renewable energy or loses sight of other means by which carbon emissions may be reduced.

16. The energy industry was privatised in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This, and the liberalisation of the energy market, had a profound effect on the energy mix. Gas replaced coal as the primary source of energy and this contributed to the lack of nuclear build.

The Energy Research Review Group

17. To inform the PIU's energy policy review, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry commissioned the Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, to conduct a review of Government support for RD&D activities. The Energy Research Review Group (ERRG) considered whether the overall level of expenditure on RD&D was sufficient, whether it was being targeted at the right areas and who should in future maintain an overview of expenditure.[13] The ERRG report was published in February 2002 as an annex of the PIU review. It recommended that research should focus on the following technologies:

  • CO2 sequestration;
  • energy efficiency;
  • hydrogen production and storage;
  • nuclear power (nuclear waste);
  • solar PV; and
  • wave and tidal power.

18. The ERRG picked up the suggestion made by the Energy Foresight panel in its Power without Pollution report published in March 2002, that there should be a national energy research centre, based on a spoke and hub model. This has subsequently been incorporated into a successful bid to the 2002 Spending Review by the Research Councils, which we will consider further in paragraphs 33-37 below.[14]

19. The Energy White Paper accepts the recommendations of Sir David King's ERRG report, in terms of the priority research areas and the need to invest more in public RD&D.[15] No additional RD&D funding was made available beyond that announced in the Spending Review.

1   Seventh Report of the Science and Technology Committee, session 2000-2001, Wave and Tidal Energy, HC 291 Back

2   Fifth Report of the Environmental Audit Committee, A Sustainable Energy Strategy? Renewables and the PIU Report, session 2001-02, HC 582-I; Second Report of the Trade and Industry Committee, Security of Energy Supply, session 2001-02, HC 364 Back

3   Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Energy-The Changing Climate, June 2000, Cm 4794; Performance and Innovation Unit, The Energy Review, February 2002, p 8 Back

4   Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Energy-The Changing Climate, June 2000, Cm 4794, para 10.10 Back

5   Liaison Committee, Oral evidence from the Prime Minister, 21 January 2003, Q 42 Back

6   Department of Trade and Industry, Our energy future-creating a low carbon future, Cm 5761, February 2003, para 1.10 Back

7   Hulme M et al (2002) Climate Change Scenarios for the United Kingdom: The UKCIP02 Scientific Report, Tyndall

Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia, chapter 8 Back

8 Back

9 Back

10   DTI, 2002 Digest of UK Energy Statistics, Table 5.6; Second Report of the Trade and Industry Committee, Session 2001-02, Security of Energy Supply, HC364, para 20 Back

11   DTI, Our energy future-creating a low carbon future, Cm 5761, February 2003, para 4.11 Back

12   Q 592 Back

13   Office of Science and Technology, Report of the Chief Scientific Adviser's Energy Research Review Group, February 2002 Back

14   Ev 136-138 Back

15   DTI, Our energy future-creating a low carbon future, Cm 5761, February 2003, para 4.15 Back

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