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

Annex C

Memorandum from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Inquiry


  1.  The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is responsible for promoting and supporting basic, strategic and applied research within its remit for the benefit of the UK. The EPSRC mission is:

  2.  To promote and support, by any means, high quality basic, strategic and applied research and related postgraduate training in engineering and the physical sciences;

  3.  to advance knowledge and technology, and provide trained engineers and scientists, to meet the needs of users and beneficiaries thereby contributing to the economic competitiveness of the United Kingdom and the quality of life of its citizens; and

  4.  The EPSRC currently invests approaching £650 million a year in the science base for research and training in engineering and physical sciences with a view to ensuring that the UK will be prepared for the next generation of technological change.

  5.  The EPSRC welcomes the opportunity to respond to this Inquiry. Further details on EPSRC activities are available at

The current state of UK research and development in, and the deployment of, renewable energy-generation technologies including: offshore wind; photovoltaics; hydrogen and fuel cell technologies; wave; tidal; bioenergy; ground source heat pumps: and intelligent grid management and energy storage

  6.  EPSRC supports research and training in the core physical sciences (mathematics, physics & chemistry), underpinning technologies (eg materials science and information & communications technologies) and all aspects of engineering.


  7.  Most PhDs studentships are run through standard research projects, most notably the SUPERGEN consortia. Skills and training are mainly addresses in two ways; Project studentships and Collaborative Training Accounts (CTAs) and Masters' courses (through the CTAs) and Doctoral Training Accounts (DTAs) [EPSRC]. There are also other training activities such as industrial CASE awards that support small number of studentship. CTAs allow a single flexible mechanism for funding all EPSRC schemes that link postgraduate training with the workplace, such as Masters Training Packages, Engineering Doctorate, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, Research Assistants into Industry, Industrial CASE and CASE for New Academics. As funding is provided directly to the Universities CTAs provide a responsive approach to training driven by the market needs, as they allow universities the flexibility to deploy funds in response to emerging themes and industry needs. Table 1 shows the number of studentships in each renewable energy theme. Masters training funding is also provided through the CTA initiative and Table 2 details the universities and the subject title of the MTAs supported.

Table 1


Project Students
CTA/ DTA Studentships

Fuel cells & Hydrogen
Wave & tidal

Note on table 1: project student number shown are full time equivalent and represent the proportion of projects that are applicable to renewable energy.

Table 2


(Training package) TITLE/NAME
Primary Sector

Sustainable Energy Materials
Sustainable Energy
Offshore Technologies: Masters Level Courses for the Offshore and
Ocean Industries
Sustainable Energy Systems
Heriot Watt
Flexible Learning Adv. Master in Energy
Decommissioning and Environmental Clean-up
Sustainable Energy Engineering
Renewable Energy Systems Technology
Energy systems
Renewable Energy
Renewable Energy: Biomass & Waste Technology
Electrical Power Engineering

  8.  Platform grants (EPSRC) enable research groups to maintain capability by providing support for key research staff, and to allow research groups to take a strategic view of their research. Four Platform grants have been made; Decentralised polygeneration of energy; Sustainable Electric Power Systems; Materials for High Temperature Fuel Cell Technology; Future Technologies in Power Electronics.

  9.  Research, development, demonstration and technology transfer are all essential to enable the implementation of innovation in the energy supply market and funding agencies must work in effective partnerships to support innovation. EPSRC would emphasise that the shortage of trained personnel within the energy industry as a key area of concern.

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

  10.  As stated in the main body of the document the research councils have a key role in supporting the fundamental science that underpins energy research. ESPRC aims to support a full spectrum of energy research to help the UK meet the objectives and targets set out in the 2007 Energy White Paper.

  11.  EPSRC provides a major investment in renewable energy and related R&D, at a level of over £13 million in the period 2006-07. Renewable sources of power include wave, wind, biomass, solar PV, and fuel cells utilising renewable hydrogen sources. The portfolio includes issues relating to the integration of renewable sources of generation into the energy grid. The nature of research is such that it is likely that EPSRC funded research, being undertaken in other areas such as materials, chemistry and physics, may also give rise to useful results in this field. Full details of all of the projects identified by EPSRC as relevant to the inquiry can be provided if required.

  12.  EPSRC is continuing to make strategic investments in research addressing both the supply and demand side of the energy economy through a major research programme on Sustainable Power Generation and Supply (SUPERGEN). SUPERGEN is a multidisciplinary research programme that addresses simultaneously technical solutions and market and public acceptability issues. As such it is ideally placed to inform the development of effective regulatory strategies to enable the transition towards a low carbon economy. Table 3 shows the current SUPERGEN consortia list and levels of funding.

Table 3


SUPERGEN Consortium
Funding (Commitment)

UK Sustainable Hydrogen Energy
Marine Energy
Future Network Technologies
PV Materials for the 21st Century
Conventional Power Plant Life Extension
Fuel Cells
Highly Distributed Power Systems
Excitonic Solar Cells
Energy Storage
Biological Fuel Cells
Asset Management and Performance of Energy Systems

  13.  In addition to the managed activities EPSRC also supports a significant portfolio of responsive mode proposals in all the renewable energy themes. This provides a mechanism for researchers to undertake novel blue skies research in a bottom up manner.

  14.  Platform grants are one of the key mechanisms by which EPSRC strives towards maintaining and developing the strength of the UK engineering and scientific research base, by supporting, through underpinning funding, those UK groups considered to be world leaders in their fields. Platform funding is aimed at providing a baseline of support for retention of key research staff with the aim of providing stability to these groups. It is also anticipated that it will provide the stability and flexibility to permit longer-term research and international networking, and to take a strategic view on their research. An example of such a platform grant is supporting a group at Imperial College London looking at the development of clean, small scale energy generation technologies and their integration with the existing power system.

Collaborative working

  15. EPSRC is working with the other research councils and funding organisations to support a full spectrum of energy related research renewables, cleaner fossil fuel technologies and nuclear fission and fusion and work in demand reduction. In addition to the collaborative activities outlined in the main text of this document.

  16. EPSRC is working with the DTI under the auspices of the Memorandum of Understanding with the USA on collaboration in energy research, as part of this agreement. EPSRC has supported five postgraduate research students to spend an additional year working on hydrogen-related research at Sandia National Laboratories in the USA.

  17. 45% of EPSRC's current renewable energy research portfolio is conducted in collaboration with industry, involving over 300 companies, with the value of their cash and indirect contributions totalling over £12 million.

  18.  Working with the DBERR and other research councils, EPSRC has organised three Energy Research Summits. Industrial participants were asked to identify common business-led research or postgraduate training opportunities which will are being used to inform the strategic direction of the Research Councils Energy Programme.

  19.  EPSRC have appointed Professor Nigel Brandon, Imperial college, as an energy senior research fellow to be an envoy and advocate for the Research Councils' energy work. In particular, their work involves developing the international profile and level of collaboration and to provide information to EPSRC on potential international research opportunities.

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