Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Annex 2


  1.  This annex sets out the Research Councils proposals for future collaborative activities, including a National Energy Research Centre.


  2.  BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC, NERC, OST and DTI Energy Directorate are currently collaborating in the development of proposals for taking forward basic research to support renewable energy technologies. This follows the Prime Minister's announcement in 2001 of additional funding for research in this area following the publication of the PIU report.


  3.  EPSRC is planning to work in partnership with the Carbon Trust on a major joint R&D programme on low carbon innovation. This programme will support research and development to underpin tomorrow's low carbon technologies. NERC and ESRC have expressed interest in participation.


  4.  In the Government's 2000 Spending Review (SR2000) NERC was given the responsibility of furthering cross-Research Council collaboration in the area of technology for sustainability and energy. As a result NERC took the lead in developing a joint Research Council proposal, "Towards a sustainable energy economy", for SR2002.

  5.  This proposal sets out a broad-based programme of research including carbon management, nuclear energy, renewable energy, energy markets and public acceptability, equity and risk. In developing this initiative, inputs were sought from a number of key players in energy RD&D including the DTI, DEFRA, the Carbon Trust and the EU. It is intended that the programme will draw on existing strengths, be highly collaborative, build capacity and enable the UK to accelerate existing areas of research and training. The overall aim of the programme is to enable the UK to access a secure, safe, diverse and reliable energy supply at a competitive price, while meeting the challenge of global warming.

  6.  A key element of the proposal is the establishment of an Energy Research Centre to bring together interdisciplinary teams with expertise in the scientific, technological, social, economic, environmental and health aspects of energy research. It is intended that this centre would provide a national and possibly international focus to integrate and accelerate research in this priority area. The Councils hope that such a centre could act as the hub of a national energy research network and bring together all Government-funded energy RD&D in a "network of networks" (including Departments, Agencies, the proposed Sustainable Energy Policy Unit and the devolved administrations). In order to achieve this aim, the national Centre would have to host its own major research programme on aspects of the energy research agenda to ensure its international status as a centre for RD&D. In addition to or as part of its research activities, the centre should also host expertise on energy markets, public perception/acceptability issues and Government policy/regulation and to disseminate information on these issues to the wider research community through the national network. The centre itself could be virtual, based on a "hub and spoke" model with the hub hosting the central coordinating role of the Centre. The Centre will require leadership from an individual that can command respect internationally and nationally across Government, Industry and academe.

  7.  Discussions on the establishment and role of a national Energy Research Centre are currently in progress. Those involved in discussions include: the Director General of the Research Councils (DGRC), the Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA), the Office of Science and Technology (OST), BBSRC, CCLRC, ESRC, EPSRC, NERC, the Carbon Trust and the DTI, DfT and DEFRA. The Councils believe that it should be possible to establish the Centre as the hub of a national energy RD&D network and in its coordinating role for Government Energy RD&D by May 2004.


  8.  ESRC are leading a cross-Research Council SR2002 other RCs proposal designed to develop robust scenarios for the rural environment, including sustainable land use management options to help reduce risk and uncertainty and provide policy tools for delivering healthy and sustainable rural economies. Part of this initiative will address:

    —  undertaking multi-disciplinary comparative studies to investigate the sustainability of new farming systems, including non-food crops (for biomaterials, biofuels, and biomass for energy), as well as research on the potential for generating new non-agricultural rural incomes;

    —  developing more holistic methods of environmental risk assessment for the impacts of new land use patterns and identification of new and improved indicators of ecosystem health to monitor progress towards sustainability; and

    —  research into integrated rural planning systems (which could potentially include issues such as those surrounding the location of new energy plants in rural areas).

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