Submission from Warwick Institute for
Sustainable Energy and Resources, University of Warwick
1. The University of Warwick has recently
established a multidisciplinary research institute, across campus,
which focuses directly on the area of renewable energy and energy
efficiency, called WISER (Warwick Institute for
Sustainable Energy Research). The main aim is to bring together
the wealth of energy related activity from across the University
and to bring new academics into the field. The range of expertise
includes all areas of engineering, fundamental sciences, business,
economics and social sciences. We believe that the challenge of
delivering a sustainable energy supply from renewable sources
is a crucial long term issue that must have allocated considerable
resources (both intellectual and financial) if we are to develop
appropriate long term technological solutions and societal vision.
We also realise that radical new ideas and the necessary step
changes in technology will arise at the interfaces between traditional
disciplines and see this to be a great strength of WISER. There
is probably no greater challenge to maintaining our way of life
than developing these new technologies, and reaping the rewards
in producing a new manufacturing revolution.
The current state of UK research and development
in, and the deployment of, renewable electricity-generation technologies
2. The UK has some world leading companies
in the renewable energy area. However, generally speaking, the
UK is trailing our international counterparts in many areas with
a much smaller level of investment at all levels of research and
development and the deployment of technology. The current large
investment in wind power being made in the UK, relies on much
of the technology being imported from countries where, it has
long been realised that there is a real economic and social need
for renewable energy technologies as well as a massive business
opportunity. Taking photovoltaics as an example, the UK is world
leading in some of the 3rd generation technologies which offer
a tremendous investment opportunity which, if made, could place
the UK in a world leading position.
3. One of the UK's major successes in the
renewables area is Converteam, which is the UK's largest exporter
of renewable energy technology. The company supplies much of the
internal workings of wind turbines and other renewable generators.
The rate of innovation is impressive and is a model which could
be replicated across the UK given the correct investment environment.
4. International collaboration is absolutely
key if we are to develop new solutions to the world's global energy
problems. It is therefore vital that the UK is seen as a leader
in renewable energy technologies. This will help set the agenda
world wide as well as setting a firm foundation for a growth in
UK renewable energy technology related businesses.
Public funding, and other support, for the development
of renewable electricity generation technologies and incentives
for technology transfer
5. The solutions to renewable energy generation
will only be realised if a long term strategic vision is maintained
over the next 20 years. It is unlikely there will be a "quick-fix"
solution; the magnitude of the problem is too large. It must be
realised that investment in the basic science and under pinning
technologies is just as important as investment in demonstrators
if fundamental solutions are to be found and implemented. One
example is the electrical energy conversion process, which is
common to all renewable electricity generation systems. This determines
much of the efficiency of a system, its control and its integration.
However, funding of research into this area often falls between
the cracks, even though it is an area where industry in the UK
has been traditionally very strong in the past. An overview of
the development of complete systems needs to undertaken.
The establishment and role of the Energy Technologies
6. The ETI is a welcome development in the
UK since it helps provide the essential link between research
and deployment in terms of development and demonstration of new
technologies. It is still not clear, however, exactly how the
Institute will operate or what exactly it will fund. It seems
to be focussing on near to market technologies which may deliver
short term stop-gap technologies. It does not however; seem to
offer a strategic long term vision which will deliver long term
developments based on new fundamental sciences applied to the
problem of energy.
7. One issue which seems to be a real problem
is that there are many players funding and supporting technologies
in the energy and low carbon arenas. Examples are, EPSRC, NERC,
UKERC, TSB, Carbon Trust, Energy Savings Trust, Department of
Transport, DEFRA and the ETI as well as the Regional Development
Agencies. Each has a subtly different rationale but there is also
considerable overlap. It would be of great benefit if the activities
of these various programmes could be streamlined and coordinated
so as to provide a more coherent vision and hopefully better deployment
Commercialising renewable technologies
8. Commercialisation of basic research is
an area that has been studied over the last 10 years and indeed
universities have become much more aware of the potential for
commercialisation. However, most universities have become more
aware of potential intellectual property at the expense of collaborative
researcha more healthy balance needs to be reached here,
so as to maximise the process of taking ideas to industry without
unreasonable demands being on the unrealistic value of protected
9. WISER at Warwick has as
one of its main strengths a good relationship with industry and
in conjunction with organisations such as Connect Midlands can
see direct synergy between world class university research and
incubating new ideas and providing credibility to start up enterprises.
The WISER model is to work with industry to drive innovation rather
than maximise short term IP revenue.
Intermittency of supply and connection with the
10. There is a great analogy between the
developments of distributed computing and distributed generation.
The computing market has seen unparalleled developments over the
past 20 years. The initial catalyst for this rapid growth was
the availability of an open standard set out by IBM in the early
80's. This standard meant that many manufacturers could produce
compatible equipment that would (in most cases) work harmoniously
together when sourced from other manufacturers. This coupled with
communications technology has delivered an unprecedented and unpredicted
global uptake of the technology. The many innovations have been
developed by a large number of companies, rather than a few large
suppliers. Before this growth of distributed computing, computers
were large expensive and consequently major investments which
needed to be tended by teams of dedicated experts.
11. This distributed energy market has many
parallels here. We are at the start of the development and it
is not possible to see what developments will be made. However,
it is clear that if a "sea change" is to take place
from the current highly centralised system, to a point where individuals
or small groups have the possibility to take control of their
own energy needs, whilst being able store and export excess energy,
then an intervention in the market akin to setting an open standard
12. This then, requires the development
of standards for energy generation, storage and intelligent connectivity
protocols that allow for many manufacturers to enter the market
with numerous small innovations. It is possible to imagine energy
storage technologies developing in the same way as say memory
storage technology, which is still developing at an unstoppable
rate. If the same rate of progress could be applied to energy
storage then issues of intermittency would be solved by a natural
evolution. Compare this with the massively expensive large scale
energy storage scheme of today, which require enormously expensive
and strategic decisions to be made. If energy storage were distributed
amongst consumers, each investment would be smaller and, it would
allow for much more rapid innovation and rate of uptake.
Whether the UK has the skills base to underpin
the development of renewable technology
13. The skills shortage in the UK is clear.
Many young people are clearly very enthusiastic about "green"
technology, however, there needs to be a strategic decision made
at governmental level to encourage young talented people to take
up careers in technologies that will underpin the development
of sustainable environmental solutions. It would seem appropriate
for government to sponsor a significant number of scholarships
for courses that address these new and emerging technologies.
In the long term it is important that our best young people are
engaged with this major global challenge. This has the potential
to develop a rapidly growing technology that is critical for the
future of our way of life.
14. WISER and other similar
institutions across the UK are key to delivering what is needed
here and should be fully engaged with the delivery of a new generation
of scientists, engineers and business men capable of delivering
the rate of innovation necessary to ensure the UK can be a player
in what will be a new industrial revolution.