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

Annex E

Memorandum from the Science and Technology Facilities Council to the Science and Technology Select Committee


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

  1.  The successful development of renewable energy technologies requires fundamental materials and process development, engineering integration of devices, and then deployment, testing and demonstration of prototype devices. STFC makes significant contributions to the first two steps in this process.

  2.  Many key renewable energy technologies—photovoltaics, hydrogen, fuel cells, bio-energy, and energy storage—still require significant progress in underlying device and material performance to improve their reliability and cost effectiveness. Such progress depends upon understanding the properties of chemicals and materials at the molecular level. STFC's portfolio of facilities provides a unique set of tools for the characterisation, optimisation and design of new chemicals and materials at the molecular level that will play a key role in fundamental developments, design, characterisation of device performance and monitoring / characterisation of devices in use. A significant number of HEI researchers already make use of the STFC facilities to underpin basic and applied research in this area and in partnership with the EPSRC, STFC has provided strategic mode access to the facilities for successful proposals in a recent "Materials for Energy" call.

  3.  Even when technologies are successful commercially, their continuing development benefits from ongoing research work (eg condition monitoring for offshore wind energy, innovative generator designs etc). STFC's Energy Research Unit (ERU) has carried out renewable energy collaborative research with HEI's and industry for many years, and is currently a partner in both the Supergen wind consortium and the EU-funded Upwind project, both of which are seeking to develop advanced wind turbine designs. The ERU also runs a renewable energy test site as a facility for academic use in applied renewable energy research projects.

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

  4.  The STFC facilities are used in materials characterisation at all stages in the product pipeline from basic R&D through to product application and performance.

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

  5.  The STFC is committed to enabling research and development and technology transfer in the Renewable Energy Generation area. A number of specific initiatives worthy of note:

    —  The STFC aims to develop and enhance its facilities to enable in-situ rapid throughput studies of relevance to whole device modelling and applied research for energy and materials related studies. We are developing the concept of a Materials Innovation and Imaging Institute that would tie together access to multiple facilities with detector development, simulation, data processing and analysis to provide a solution based approach to materials problems.

    —  We are exploring an extension of the successful STFC technology partnership scheme to energy applications, with the aim of transferring core underpinning capabilities in instrumentation, engineering, sensor technology and microsystems prototyping to HEIs and other partner organisations including industry.

    —  Industrial usage of the STFC facilities is a key component of STFC's Knowledge Exchange Delivery Plan and to facilitate this and raise awareness within the industrial community, a wider access Sales Team has been recruited to broker interaction with commercial partners and customers.

    —  The STFC operates a Proof of Concept fund that is available for STFC researchers and their HEI collaborators wishing to take forward ideas to develop new and innovative products and devices. This scheme is available for all areas of STFC's research and development portfolio—indeed funding has recently been awarded to develop an online wind energy forecasting tool created by the STFC's ERU.

    —  The STFC is now exploring opportunities for partnering with the Technology Strategy Board in this area.

    —  The STFC is committed to developing new training activities aimed at increasing the quality and breadth of access to facilities.

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