Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 6

Submission from One NorthEast

  1.  Renewable Energy Technology is of considerable significance to the economic development of North East England. The region has a number of strengths in our businesses and universities that are particularly suited to the development of renewable energy technology.

  2.  Over recent years, these strengths have enabled the development of innovative businesses in technologies as diverse as wind, wave and tidal devices, biomass and biofuels, photovoltaics, fuel cells, geothermal energy, the connection of renewable energy to grid networks, microgeneration, the design and engineering of renewable energy systems and the installation of renewable energy systems.

  3.  Key to this growth, which is a major driver of the region's current economic success, is focussed Research and Development.

  4.  Two particular features of the region's approach to Renewable Energy Research and Development capacity are particularly important:

    —  The region has developed new facilities and undertaken projects which are particularly concerned with bridging the gap between university laboratories and full market application, establishing a range of facilities and capabilities which are leading in Europe.

    —  The region has developed an approach to renewable energy research and development that has successfully integrated universities, development and testing facilities and businesses.

  5.  The region's approach is based on the recognition in recent years that there have been a number of weaknesses in the UK's infrastructure for Research and Development, and diffusion and adoption of renewable energy technology.

  6.  The key weaknesses have been:

    —  An absence of suitably scaled development, testing and prototyping facilities, meaning that it was very difficult for new technologies to be developed beyond the research stage.

    —  An absence of engineering and application oriented capabilities actively seeking to develop technologies from the research stage to a stage whereby they could be adopted by businesses for application.

    —  A continuing weakening of close to market product and technology development infrastructure, such as performance verification testing.

    —  Limited integration between research organisations, including universities, technology based businesses, and businesses seeking to apply new energy technologies.

    —  An absence of reliable and independent technical, project, financial and operational data among many organisation potentially seeking to apply new renewable technologies.

  7.  There are many strengths in early stage research for renewable energy technology. Also, networks, for example those established by the Research Councils, have largely overcome previous problems of fragmentation in research capacity. There is also a range of financial sources and mechanisms to support research and development. However, due to the weaknesses summarised in Paragraph 6 above, which are largely related to capacity and facilities at the translational research and development stage, technologies are not being introduced at a sufficient pace or scale into the market.

  8.  The region has addressed these weaknesses by the establishment of NaREC (New and Renewable Energy Centre) and CPI (Centre for Process Innovation). These are major new institutions with significant capabilities and facilities.

  9.  Facilities developed by NaREC include wind turbine blade testing, photovoltaics (based on former BP R & D capacity), wave and tidal testing facilities, low voltage network systems and high voltage network systems. These facilities are located over three sites in North East England, with the major site being at Blyth in Northumberland.

  10.  CPI have developed facilities to demonstrate fuel cell systems and low energy processes, including through the National Industrial Biotechnology Facility, which is hosted and operated by CPI. A key element of their work is related to the Process Industries, which are clearly major energy users in the region and the UK as a whole.

  11.  Other organisations which have been developing major research and development projects for renewable energies are Renew Tees Valley, including energy from waste and carbon capture and storage, TWI, which is developing REMTEC (Renewable Energy Manufacturing Technology Centre), and Newcastle Science City, which has Energy and Environment as one of its major themes.

  12.  In addition, the region's universities are developing technologies in key areas of renewable energy as well as engineering and design capability. One innovative example is the work led by Newcastle University, which is also involving community groups, local authorities, businesses and the RDA, to develop Geothermal based communities.

  13.  Critically, these different elements operate as part of an integrated network, working with a range of businesses and international partners. They are supported by a range of infrastructure, including financial providers, intellectual property advisers and skills developers.

  14.  We welcome the establishment of the Energy Technology Institute. We believe that it could provide a very effective focal point for bringing technologies to a condition of near market readiness. We would strongly suggest that the ETI focuses on translational research and relatively near to market development. We would urge the ETI to take maximum advantage of existing facilities, including those within energy using businesses, to develop and demonstrate technologies in a "near real" environment.

  15.  We also suggest that, overall, much progress has been made with early stage research, and that Government, universities, businesses and others should focus their efforts on the further development of technologies to the application stage. In many cases, the key is to demonstrate potential value in order to achieve scale and consequently reduced unit costs, such that cost differentials for renewable technologies relative to other energy technologies are substantially reduced or removed entirely. In this respect, the work of Community Energy Solutions in respect of Heat Pumps is particularly illustrative.

  16.  We would also suggest that attention is paid to disseminating the results of projects already completed to potential funders and project developers. Support for the establishment of project development and operational approaches, for example project philosophies, commercial models and implementation procedures for offshore wind turbines, would be of considerable advantage.

  17.  We particularly suggest that the opportunities and technical and non-technical requirements for distributed energy schemes, including community owned systems, is examined, recognising the importance of such approaches to the adoption of renewable energies.

  18.  Overall, we emphasis that the UK has a great opportunity to make a very substantial contribution to climate change and to develop new industries, through the development and application of technologies for renewable energy. Many of these technologies have already been identified and researched. The challenge now is develop them further to a point of actual application, and to do so in a manner that reduces unit costs.

July 2007

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