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


APPENDIX 31

Memorandum submitted by the Economic and Social Research Council

TO EVALUATE LEVEL OF EXPENDITURE ON RD&D IN NON-CARBON ENERGY TECHNOLOGIES, BY UK GOVERNMENT, THE RESEARCH COUNCILS, THE CARBON TRUST AND INDUSTRY, AND WHERE IT IS BEING DIRECTED

  1.  The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the largest independent funding agency for social science research and training in the UK. It funds basic, strategic and applied research in higher education institutions and independent research institutes through its responsive mode and through priority investments, such as research centres and programmes, addressing its seven Thematic Priorities. Socio-economic research on energy is currently being funded under a number of the ESRC's Thematic Priorities, including Environment and Human Behaviour, Economic Performance and Development, Governance and Citizenship, Work and Organisations and Social Stability and Exclusion (Tables 3 and 4, Annex A).

  2.  Following the completion of ESRC's major 10-year Global Environmental Change Programme in 2001, the main current Programme of relevance is ESRC's new £3 million ESRC; Sustainable Technologies Programme (2002-06). The Programme aims to fund innovative social and economic research into the shaping, development and use of more sustainable technologies and is part of the UK Sustainable Technologies Initiative (STI) sponsored by the DTI, EPSRC, DEFRA and the BBSRC. Commissioning of the first round of research under the Programme has recently been completed. Five of the six projects funded under the first round are focused (in whole or part) on energy-related issues (Table 3). Commissioning of a second round will commence later this year.

  3.  The ESRC's major activities in the energy research field are all currently being conducted in close collaboration and co-ordination with other key partners. These include the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research (with EPSRC, NERC and DTI), Sustainable Technologies (with DTI, EPSRC, DEFRA and BBSRC) and SUPERGEN (with EPSRC, NERC, BBSRC and a range of other consortia partners). ESRC's contribution to the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, represents its largest current investment in energy-related research through its funding of research centres. ESRC's current contribution to the Tyndall Centre as a whole is £1.25 million over five years (£250k per annum) up to 2005-06. Information on the Centre's research is provided in Annex A.

  4.  In addition, the Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (CSERGE) based at the University of East Anglia is currently running a £2.15 million ESRC Programme on Environmental Decision-Making (2001-06). Although most of this research is not focused on the energy sector, the programme includes work of general relevance under the following three main headings:

    —  Multi-level Environmental Governance and Environmental Policy Integration.

    —  Social Capital, Equity and Justice in Environmental Decision-Making.

    —  Innovation in Decision Support (Tools and Methods).

  5.  Some research at other ESRC funded research centres, such as the Transport Studies Unit (University College London) and the new Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society (BRASS, University of Cardiff) may also be of more general relevance.

  6.  Energy Research is also funded through a number of other schemes (eg responsive mode, other research programmes etc) and a summary of other current relevant research is provided in Table 4.

TO IDENTIFY WHICH TECHNOLOGIES ARE, OR SHOULD BE, RECEIVING SUPPORT, AND HOW MUCH INVESTMENT IS DIRECTED AT RESEARCH, DEVELOPMENT AND DEMONSTRATION RESPECTIVELY

  7.  The ESRC welcomes the recognition of the importance of socio-economic issues in the PIU's Energy Review and the recommendation made by the Chief Scientific

Adviser's Energy Research Group that "there should be further strategic investigation and appropriate research into non-technical policy drivers, including regulatory as well as social, commercial and economic drivers". The Council has recently commissioned a number of energy research projects as a part of the first phase of its Sustainable Technologies Programme http://www.sustainabletechnologies.ac.uk/home for more information), which is being conducted in collaboration with the cross Council Sustainable Technologies Initiative. The Council is collaborating with the EPSRC, BBSRC, and NERC in a supplementary call to the EPSRC's SUPERGEN programme and is exploring the potential for collaboration with the Carbon Trust and EPSRC on low carbon innovation. The Council also believes that, subject to the necessary funds being made available, socio-economic issues (including energy markets, regulation, policy and planning, social impacts and public acceptability) should form a part of the core integrative multi-disciplinary research agenda of the proposed energy research centre.

TO ASSESS THE SKILLS BASE AND THE STATE OF RD&D FOR DIFFERENT TECHNOLOGIES

  8.  Although there are currently a number of, comparatively small, high-quality research centres conducting research on the socio-economics of energy, the ESRC believes that the scale of the research challenges ahead requires the expansion and strengthening of current research capacity. It will also be important to draw in perspectives from, and engage, the broader social science community and develop further inter-disciplinary research linkages outside the social sciences. The ESRC hopes to explore the opportunities for strengthening such capacity in collaboration with the other Research Councils as a part of the follow-up to the SR2002 Towards a Sustainable Energy Economy proposal (Annex B), building upon current work (eg under the SUPERGEN and Sustainable Technologies Programmes).

TO ESTABLISH HOW GOVERNMENT POLICY ON ENERGY RD&D IS FORMULATED, IMPLEMENTED AND EVALUATED, AND THE NATURE OF COORDINATION BETWEEN DEPARTMENT, EXTERNAL AGENCIES AND INDUSTRY

  9.  The ESRC welcomes the potential opportunities that the proposed creation of a UK Energy Research Centre would provide to further enhance collaboration and co-ordination with other Research Councils, government, industry and a range of other key stakeholders in energy research (Annex B).

TO ESTABLISH THE LEVEL AND RATIONALE FOR INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATION IN ENERGY RD&D AND HOW THE PRIORITIES ARE DETERMINED

  10.  Although the ESRC is currently supporting some international comparative and collaborative social science research on energy (for example on environmental policy instruments), the Council believes that there is a need for further such work. Significant opportunities for such research exist through the EU's Sixth Framework Competition, building upon work funded under FP5. The ESRC also hopes that the proposed new UK Energy Research Centre will play a leading role in promoting the development of international collaborative work and that funding will be available as a part of this initiative for international comparative social science research.



 
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