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

Memorandum 14

Submission from Advantage West Midlands

  Areas under consideration

    1.  The current state of UK R&D in, and deployment of, renewable energy generation technologies including offshore wind, photovoltaics, hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, wave, tidal, bio energy, ground source heat pumps and intelligent grid management and energy storage.

  The West Midlands Region has strong innovation capabilities applicable to these technologies. While the picture is not even across them, these capabilities are generally competitive at international level and are contained in a mix of both business and academic assets. The regional picture was assessed in a study undertaken by Birmingham University for the regional Innovation and Technology Council, a copy of which is included with this submission supported by an "inventory" of academic capability.

    2.  The feasibility, costs, timescales and progress in commercialising renewable technologies as well as their reliability and associated carbon footprints.

  The commercialisation of renewable technologies does pose particular problems; the Region has two demonstration units in renewable energy and this response draws on the regional experience with these two projects, as follows:


  This proejct involves the construction of a technology pathfinder renewable energy power plant fuelled from a locally grown miscanthus (elephant grass) supply chain. This project will:

    —  Provide a significant farm diversification opportunity.

    —  Support regional objectives by allowing the creation of a regional supply chain around the technology supplier, also a regional company.

    —  Make a direct contribution to carbon reduction in the Region.

  AWM funding has been used to supplement DTI Funding, via the New & Renewable Energy Scheme, and private sector funding. The private sector contribution is in the majority. The project is now in commissioning stages.


  This project proposes the construction of an advanced waste disposal facility to handle food waste generated in Ludlow. This project will:

    —  Develop an anaerobic digestion plant capable of treating 5,000 tonnes a year of biodegradable wastes in South Shropshire and producing renwable electricity together with a directly usable fertiliser.

    —  Establish the operation of this site in a community company to provide waste management services and renewable energy generation in South Shropshire.

    —  Provide access to the site so that it can serve as a national demonstrator.

    —  Give a firm platform for a regional supply chain to take advantage of this emerging marketplace.

  The project was led by South Shropshire District Council working in conjunction with Greenfinch Ltd, a regional technology provider. The project is also supported by DEFRA, through the Waste Implementation Programme. This project is now established in operation.

  Experience with these projects indicates that:

    —  The commercialisation process does need to recognise a distinct deployment phase, where new technologies can build meaningful experience that will allow them to enter highly structure and risk averse markets on something like equal terms with more established offerings.

    —  Demonstration in this area tends to encounter barriers with processes for electrical connection and for planning, where there scale and nature present "out of the ordinary" challenges to the process.

  Support for this aspect of the innovation process is emerging as a key consideration in achieving success.

    3.  The UK Government's role in funding research and development for renewable energy generation technologies and providing incentives for technology transfer and industrial research and development.

  The two projects described above together with a further DTI supported industrial R&D project, connected with generation technologies for renewable energy, all have substantial UK Government support. This support has been essential in achieving the considerable progress that has been made in terms of both the deployment of renewable technologies and in the building of supply chains for these technologies. While the grant application process can be demanding, the schemes themselves are seen as an essential part of the landscape.

    4.  Other possible technologies for renewable energy generation.

  Selected Waste to Energy technologies could usefully be added the scope of the inquiry. This technology poses very similar issues to other renewables but with a significant added complication in that the typical framework of deployment, via PFI projects of substantial scale, adds further to the issues around commercialisation.

  As a more general point, the focus on renewable energy tends to fall on electricity generation. Renewable heat technologies (including combined heat and power) also have a role to play.

  Available at office:

    1.  Report "Energy Strengths in the West Midlands".

    2.  Listing of academic resources in energy innovation.

    3.  Presentation "Energy Strengths in the West Midlands".

July 2007

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