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

Memorandum 16

Submission from East of England Development Agency

  On behalf of EEDA and its partners, thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the Science & Technology Committee Inquiry into renewable energy generation technologies. The Renewables Industry is of particular importance to the East of England, where we have significant regional strengths in terms of investment, natural resources and world-class research & development capabilities focussed directly at developing this industry in the wider context of regional economic development.

  Please find below our contribution to the four key areas of your Inquiry.

1.  Evidence of the current actions taken by EEDA and its partners in relation to R&D and deployment of renewable energy generation technologies

  1.1  Offshore wind, wave and tidal:

    —  £9.5 million capital funding for the OrbisEnergy innovation and incubation centre to provide a global centre of excellence for offshore renewables.

    —  Revenue funding into Renewables East "Championing Offshore Renewables" programme to encourage early stage development into new and established offshore wind, wave and tidal deployment, including:

    —  Supply chain development;

    —  Technology acceleration;

    —  Knowledge transfer;

    —  Business support networking;

    —  Industry Liaison & Promotion.

    —  EEDA proof of concept R&D £200k capital grant to Trident Energy for wave generation.

  1.2  Photovoltaics

    —  The Centre for Integrated Photonics is a regionally recognised EEDA funded asset with expertise in converting electronic pulses into light through highly efficient conductors. The key to further transfer of their expertise lies in achieving the reverse process of light into electronic pulse.

    —  The DTI LCBP Phase 2 Grant Scheme has allocated £17 million of its £48 million budget. This includes a unique collaboration between Renewables East and Essex County Council to develop the supply chain and increase uptake of renewables, which has led to a £1 million fund being allocated by Essex CC to install PV in schools. A further allocation is now being considered for business networking and awareness raising.

  1.3  Hydrogen and fuel cell technologies:

    —  EEDA has been actively engaging regional universities that have complementary skills and expertise including Cranfield University and UEA.

  1.4  Bioenergy:

    —  BioREGen is an East of England project funded through DEFRA's BREW programme that focuses on encouraging the deployment of technology to allow the UK to better understand technologies such as Anaerobic Digestion and so access a new fuel supply chain, thus enabling further development of UK intellectual property. Work ongoing in the region has focused on:

    —  Studies in deploying Anaerobic Digestion & Gasification.

    —  Business support for potential projects.

    —  Gasification trials with new feedstock.

    —  Knowledge transfer with Guidance Notes.

    —  The formation of the British BioAlcohols Group has brought together the Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre and University of East Anglia to look at research into alcohol production from "whole" crops. Linking into this work is a "field to wheels" program with the automotive sector (Lotus) and research work into the use of biodiesel or rape oil for heating systems.

    —  £40k funding for Epicam for a system to recover waste heat from internal combustion engines and turn it back into usable engine power.

    —  £70k funding for AxelChoice to assemble, install and demo an exhaust energy regeneration system.

    —  £200k funding for Camcon to design, build and test an intelligent valve system which reduces typical petrol engine CO2 emissions by 18%.

  1.5  Ground source heat pumps:

    —  The DTI LCBP Phase 2 Grant Scheme has an allocation for heat pumps. Funding from Essex County Council has been secured for a Support Manager to develop the supply chain, increase the uptake of renewables, business networking and improving awareness of renewables including heat pumps.

  1.6  Other:

    —  £33k proof of concept funding for Wind Technologies Ltd to patent and produce a small-scale onshore winds generator.

    —  £40k funding for Select Innovations Ltd to commercialise an innovative power supply solution for discharge tube lamps.

    —  £55k for Ashe Morris to develop a heat exchanger for use in the chemical industry.

    —  £72k for Thermofluidics to take to market a heat-powered pump system for electricity-free water circulation in both building and irrigation contexts.

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

  2.1  EEDA has developed and funds a number of related and closely working partners, focussing on Renewable Energy, Sustainable Engineering and Innovation. Key partners such as Centre for Sustainable Energy, Renewables East and other innovation centres (ie St Johns) look to pass on network and learning opportunities for evolving technology commercialisation opportunities.

  2.2  In addition EEDA provides direct funding into businesses for energy and environmental commercialisation through R&D capital grants (5-10% of £5.5 million) and proof of concept grants (10-15% of £2 million).

  2.3  The Region has developed a number of "general" approaches to financing feasibility and commercialisation activity and the partner organisations EEDA has set up are effective at ensuring these are known to inventors and developers. There is also an increasing level of private investment interest in the sector and the Low Carbon Accelerator has been set up by a regionally based consortium, contributing around £90 million in its first year.

  2.4  This is complicated by the variety of different market opportunities and risk approaches inventors and developers exhibit. The smaller-scale opportunities and ones with return less in line with commercial / market focused returns will not get support from national programmes such as Carbon Trust and yet may be too large for regional R&D funds. A revolving fund, to address the intermediate stage is about to be piloted in the Region.

3.  The government's role in funding R&D and incentivising technology transfer

  3.1  The approach of Central Government to this type of funding for research and development is sometimes perceived as fractured, with organisations such as the RDAs, Carbon Trust, The Technology Strategy Board and Environment Agency all offering differing (but sometimes overlapping) opportunities. This presents a relatively confusing and complicated system for businesses and Universities who would like to engage together in applying for funding and collaborating on projects.

  3.2  There are as a consequence some areas which appear to fall outside the remit or capacity of the existing funding organisations and schemes, including:

    —  Funding for research into developing smaller scale project for energy recovery (electricity, heat and transport fuels) from UK waste with the outputs being used locally.

    —  Development of demonstration plants for various technologies.

    —  Funding for Biofuels research and its use within the transport sector. BBAG has applied for funding from different programmes—there needs to be better synergy between these programmes (medium term research vs shorter term commercialisation).

4.  Other possible technologies for renewable energy generation

  4.1  We would advise consideration of the following two possibilities:

    —  Biomethane can be produced from UK organic waste residues or from grown crops (through better use of available land). It could be developed as a transport fuel following a programme of deploying LNG/CNG and encouraging vehicles to use the fuel.

    —  Methane fuel cells for transport or power production.

5.  Concluding remarks

  5.1  As you can see from the evidence supplied above, the East of England is a vibrant and burgeoning centre for the development of the "renewables" sector—with valuable natural resources, both in the region and off shore. There is also considerable opportunity to build "renewables" into the supply chain companies already resident in the region.

  5.2  The Regional Development Agency is contributing to a variety of key actions aimed at regional economic development as well as providing leadership in the development of renaissance projects with sustainable credentials. In addition, with the increasing need for affordable housing in the region, we are working with the Buildings Research Establishment to develop workable solutions to the dilemma of cost versus sustainable construction.

  5.3  The private sector is also active in the region with the following projects:

    —  British Sugar have opened a Bioethanol plant at their Wissington site in Cambridgeshire. This project won the Project Award at the recent British Renewable Energy Association Awards.

    —  Morrisons, the supermarket chain, have introduced biofuels to their petrol stations in and around Norwich (as a result of discussions with Renewables East).

    —  Lotus—the racing car company based at Hethel, near Norwich, are currently developing a lightweight electric racing car.

  5.4  Finally, the Region has engaged with the Skills for Business network to identify a range of skills gaps and mismatches in both the renewables and related industries and is working with its Skills & Competitiveness Partnership to develop ways in which the region can respond to the increasing demands of the industry on a limited labour pool.

  5.5  Should you have any further questions, or require more information on any of the above evidence, please do not hesitate to contact my office. I look forward to hearing more about the outcomes of this enquiry.

July 2007

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