Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 144 - 159)



  Chairman: I welcome our first panel of witnesses this morning to the Renewable Electricity-Generation Technologies inquiry of the Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee. Welcome to you all and particularly welcome to Dr Paul Golby, the Chief Executive of E.ON UK and Co-Chair of the Energy Research Partnership—welcome to you, Paul—Dr David Clarke, the Chief Executive of the Energy Technologies Institute—welcome again, David—Professor Peter Bruce, the Professor of Chemistry on behalf of the Royal Society of Edinburgh—we are particularly pleased that we have somebody down from Edinburgh; it will please Dr Gibson this morning.

  Dr Gibson: Does he have an interpreter?

  Q144  Chairman: If you have an interest in Dundee that will be even better. Dr Alison Wall, the Joint Head of the Energy and Climate Change at EPSRC—welcome to you, Alison. We are trying to find out way through the plethora of organisations that are involved in this particular field. The Renewable Energy Association said and I quote, "It is very difficult for all but the most important observers to understand the remit of each [funding body], where they differ and where they overlap". Why is it so complex? David, may I begin with you? Why is all of this so complex?

  Dr Clarke: I think there is a relatively simply answer which is that it has been set up over a long period of time, it has been set up by a diverse range of bodies at different times and the consequence of that is that we have simply ended up with a very complex picture. Looking forward, I think that we are seeing a slow process of rationalisation taking place.

  Q145  Chairman: I am sorry, a slow process ... ?

  Dr Clarke: I apologise, I have a croak. ... a slow process of rationalisation, integration—

  Dr Gibson: I thought you said "nationalisation".

  Q146  Chairman: I did too.

  Dr Clarke: For the record, I definitely did not say "nationalisation".

  Q147  Chairman: The left wing on the Committee trembled at that particular point! Do you actually feel that each of the funding organisations actually adds something to it or does it just simply make it more complex and therefore more difficult for companies to find their way through this funding morass?

  Dr Clarke: I think that it clearly is a very complex picture and, in terms of where we are, each of those groups has a pretty well-defined role and a pretty well-defined remit, but the reality is that they do overlap. If you look at three of the major groups which exist today—the Technology Strategy Board, Carbon Trust and now my organisation, the Energy Technologies Institute—we all play in the same space around technology demonstration and derisking of technology. We have undertaken, partly under the auspices of the Energy Research Partnership, to actually work our way through that and come up with a very crisp and clear view that the outside world can understand of how those three groups do operate together and what kind of projects they fund. Those are the three major bodies but clearly you have many others, some of whom appear in front of this Committee today such as the Regional Development Agencies as well, all of whom have different remits.

  Q148  Chairman: Dr Golby, as Chief Executive of E.ON, you have to make this a reality. Do you find it complex, do you find it confusing and how could it be simplified?

  Dr Golby: Firstly, let me apologise for my lack of voice this morning.

  Q149  Chairman: Are you all the same?

  Dr Golby: Absolutely and I do apologise. It may be that we need an interpreter even more than my colleague! Yes, it is fragmented; yes, it is confusing. My second job as Chair of the Energy Research Partnership, one of the roles that we have taken on for ourselves is to try and make some recommendations to Government about how to simplify this and one of the key recommendations that we have made is to really have a linear supply chain of the Research Councils at the front end, pure research, the Energy Technologies Institute in Applied Research and then the Environmental Transformation Fund at the tail end in terms of deployment of technologies. I think we are a long way from where we need to be. I agree with David; the landscape is complicated, it is almost a history of political sound bite that one can actually look at the various initiatives and date back to, that was 1997, that was 1990 and so on and so forth, and I think that, at the moment, we have quite a number of let me call them pet schemes floating around which are subscale and therefore are not delivering a bang for the buck, so to speak.

  Q150  Chairman: Can you name one?

  Dr Golby: The low carbon building scheme is an example where the money available to it really is not going to drive what is needed and that is just one example, there are a number. I think that there is a need to stand back from this and to actually do what we would do in private industry and actually stop some activities in order to fund other activities to an extent that can really start to deliver.

  Q151  Graham Stringer: Are you saying that there needs to be a humane cull?

  Dr Golby: I think a humane cull of some of the initiatives and some bulking up of other initiatives in order that we can really start to get clarity and get funding and delivery really working well together.

  Q152  Chairman: May I bring you in here, Dr Wall. What worries the Committee is that it is not just simply a funding issue, this is a funding of research issue. We have these two complications: we have limited budgets and we have different organisations that have their finger in the research pie. Do you feel from the Research Councils' point of view that we are getting this proper bang for our bucks in research terms?

  Dr Wall: If you look at the energy and innovation landscape, the Research Councils are at the left-hand end of the landscape, very much funding more speculative research, through to some more applied research interfacing with the Energy Technologies Institute, the Technology Strategy Board and the Carbon Trust, but we do not really see any other major players in the same part of the innovation space as we are in. We think that we have a unique role. We spent part of the time yesterday together as Research Councils thinking about how we best articulate that role to the research community and then we obviously need to make sure that we interface very well with other organisations like the Technology Strategy Board and the Energy Technologies Institute, which in part we can do through the Energy Research Partnership.

  Q153  Chairman: Professor Bruce, how do actually see this landscape? Do you feel that it needs greater clarification and unification, what and how?

  Professor Bruce: From an active researcher's point of view, of course we do not really have contact with the whole range of bodies that are involved in this area, so it is somewhat simpler than the complete landscape for us. I have thought a bit about this and I think that some diversity is a good thing. Funding opportunities for science in the States have always been helped by the fact that there have been a number of different bodies that one can go to and the benefit of that, compared with having a single body, is that, with a single body, you can have a uniformity of view whereas, if you have a number of bodies, they tend to try to occupy different parts of the landscape and that gives some diversity of policy towards research funding, so we can fund different ideas and different things. I think that we are in danger, if we continue in the way that we have been doing, in other words if we see a further expansion in the number of organisations, of it becoming too complex because our problem is that we need to understand clear remits for each of the organisations and then we know the way to address our research and to which organisations to address our funding requests.

  Q154  Chairman: Dr Wall, obviously part of your funding now goes to the Technology Strategy Board; that gets top sliced. Does that mean that there is less money in your pot?

  Dr Wall: Funding for the Technology Strategy Board is not top sliced; we have been given targets to fund jointly with the Technology Strategy Board.

  Q155  Chairman: So, you do not give them any money?

  Dr Wall: No, we work with them and then we jointly fund projects. The organisation that we do fund is the Energy Technologies Institute.

  Q156  Chairman: Is that top sliced? Is there a definite amount of money which goes to them?

  Dr Wall: I think that the amount of money will vary on how quickly the spend ramps up to the Energy Technologies Institute but we will be funding 60% of the public sector share of that.

  Q157  Chairman: In terms of the Research Councils' work on the energy programme, does that mean that is much more limited as a result of having to put money into the Institute?

  Dr Wall: No. In our delivery plan that we have just published, the Council has maintained the funding of the rest of our energy portfolio and also funded the money for the Energy Technologies Institute.

  Q158  Chairman: The Renewable Energy Association is concerned that academia might in fact benefit from increased funding from ETI. Do you see that? Do you see the development of ETI as a very positive move?

  Dr Wall: Some university teams will benefit from ETI funding and I think that it is positive because it will help pull through the research and actually take those technologies towards deployment.

  Q159  Chairman: Do you feel that this money should be ring-fenced?

  Dr Wall: I am not quite sure what you mean by "ring-fenced". I think we have felt all along that the funding should be additional to that which we were already spending on energy research.

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