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


Memorandum submitted by the Building Research Establishment

  BRE is the UK's leading centre of expertise on buildings, construction, energy, environment, fire and risk, and provides research, consultancy and information services to customers world-wide.

  BRE welcomes the opportunity to present written evidence to this S&T Committee enquiry.

  Our contribution focuses on the issues associated with achieving carbon savings in the built environment. With buildings accounting for nearly 50% of UK carbon emissions it is essential that an adequate investment is made in relevant RD&D. Of particular importance is the need to develop the next generation of technologies and techniques associated with achieving cost effective energy savings in existing buildings, and to facilitate market development and technology transfer.

  The sections below provide a response which addresses the Committee's Terms of Reference:

1.  To evaluate the 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.

  Our greatest concern is the substantial reduction of underpinning research previously funded by the DOE/DETR/DEFRA/DTI associated with low carbon (and non-carbon) buildings related technologies and techniques. Recent changes to departmental research responsibilities have resulted in a situation where very little underpinning research is being undertaken in the UK. Furthermore, possible sources of funding are now highly fragmented and invariably require matching funding from industry, which is often difficult (or impossible) to obtain. It is difficult to motivate industry into investing in R&D unless there is a clear policy framework in place, that will develop a promising market.

2.  To identify which technologies are, or should be, receiving support, and how much investment is directed at research, development and demonstration respectively.

  The following provides an indication of the technologies which should be receiving support:

    —  energy efficiency measure/technologies (eg thin insulation for solid wall house);

    —  passive renewables (UK has world lead which we are in danger of losing/not exploiting);

    —  products/technologies which not only offer carbon reduction but can also enhance health/quality of life (eg ventilation heat recovery); and

    —  building integrated active renewables and components.

  New technologies should be considered in a holistic manner to include the broader environmental impacts (eg carbon neutrality/embodied energy, etc).

3.  To assess the skills base and the state of RD&D for different technologies.

  The under-funding by Government and its agencies of this vital area of research has resulted in a chronic shortage of appropriately qualified researchers and technology transfer specialists. This will only be remedied if Government recognises the need to provide financial support to enable relevant underpinning research to be undertaken in the UK.

4.  To establish how government policy on energy RD&D is formulated, implemented and evaluated, and the nature of co-ordination between department, external agencies and industry.

  There is no UK national debate, clarity or logic associated with the strategic RD&D research priorities for buildings-related low/no carbon technologies. This has resulted in a lack of policy coherence. A real need exists to establish much greater co-ordination and energy related RD&D policy formulation between DEFRA, ODPM, DEI, DA's, Carbon Trust, Energy Saving Trust, RDA's and the Research Councils.

5.  To establish the level of and rationale for international collaboration in energy RD&D and how priorities are determined.

  Very little international collaboration is currently taking place between the UK and overseas. The UK has recently withdrawn funding for a number of important international collaborative research programmes, such as the IEA Energy Conservation in Buildings and Community System Implementing Agreement and the IEA Solar Heating and Cooling Implementing Agreement. Neither DEFRA nor the Carbon Trust (or any other Government Department or Agency) accepts responsibility for funding these extremely important areas of activity. The consequences for the UK will be the loss of important technology transfer opportunities and reduced market intelligence associated with energy technologies and/or best practice in other countries. The UK will also lose the benefit of the significant financial gearing (on a comparatively small national investment) which involvement in major international collaborative R&D provides.

6.  To examine the effect on energy RD&D of privatisation, liberalisation, regulation and changes in ownership in the sector.

  Privatisation of the gas and electricity utilities has resulted in a catastrophic loss of a number of major centres of expertise in the UK associated with energy utilisation research. Energy price reductions, although advantageous to the economy, have had the effect of reducing interest in developing new energy sources and improving energy efficiency (market future).

  The electricity research centre at Capenhurst (EA Technology) now undertakes very little fundamental research with their Energy in Buildings Division having been disbanded about five years ago.

  The gas research centre at Loughborough (Advantica) has been similarly affected by reduced funding within the gas supply sector. It is important to note that Energy utilities currently have no obligation or incentive to fund energy utilisation research and we strongly recommend that consideration should be given to placing a requirement on energy suppliers to fund a minimum level of research within the Energy Efficiency Commitment (EEC). If 10% of the national EEC expenditure was invested in energy efficiency utilisation related RD&D about £10-15 million of additional funding would be available to stimulate the development of the next generation of energy saving technologies and techniques, and renewables.

7.  To make comparisons with overseas competitors.

  Our major competitors (principally in Europe) are able to readily access funding from Government agencies for the purpose of matching EU research funding. As stated in paragraph five. above, UK collaboration with overseas countries is woeful. Our inability to network internationally and/or benefit from international collaborative research is also damaging our competitiveness in an area of technological development having major export growth potential.

  Our overseas competitors appear to achieve much greater "critical mass" in the development of new low/no carbon technologies. It is interesting to compare the development of wind power in Denmark and of photo-voltaic technology in Germany with our largely ineffectual research activity in the UK over the same period. Our comparatively weak position and lack of commercially exploitable technologies is the result of a plethora of small (sub-critical) inadequately funded schemes having little or no research prioritisation.

December 2002

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