UK Report Calls for Investing in Renewable Energy R&D

According to an independent report published recently by the Institute of Physics, the UK lacks the necessary skills to achieve the Government’s target of producing 10 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2010. In 2004, only 3.6 percent of the UK’s electricity was generated from renewable sources.

The report, “The Role of Physics in Renewable Energy RD&D” by Judith Bates and Nikolas Hill of Future Energy Solutions, part of AEA Environment, highlights the UK’s lack of general technical skills as well as more specialist skills, a major factor that will hamper Britain’s ability to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and create a sustainable mix of clean, safe energy. Improving and developing renewable-energy technologies, states the report, requires major advances in a wide variety of research areas as well as contributions from scientists and engineers from many disciplines. It also states that physics has a vital role to play in developing some of the most promising technologies, raising concerns over the falling number of physics graduates opting to pursue a career in science and engineering-related careers. “A solution to this problem would be to estimate the future skills and educational needs, from R&D through to applied engineering, and make an effort to ensure these skills are provided,” said Bates. “Solutions to many of the most important issues we face — global warming, energy generation, crime and terrorism — rely on the development of new technologies and innovative scientific approaches,” said Peter Main, director of education and science at the Institute of Physics. “This report shows how important physics is to creating clean, safe renewable energy sources and helping to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and global warming. It is vital that we support UK physics and attract more students to study physics and go on to pursue a career in areas such as energy generation.” Very few post-graduate opportunities exist in the development of renewable energy technologies or fuel cells, according to the report, and the difficulty in obtaining funding for interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary research topics is preventing many from pursuing research in this area. It calls for a more flexible approach to funding for research in this field, and for a clear indication from Government of the importance of investing in this area of research. The report surveys existing renewable-energy technologies and also looks at new technologies being developed in the UK. It reveals that the UK could be a world leader in two important areas: photovoltaic energy and wave or tidal energy. In both of these areas the UK has a number of universities with significant research capability. “Ensuring these strengths are developed,” said Bates, “could bring substantial benefits for the UK, both in terms of enabling deployment of these technologies and reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and in terms of financial benefits from export earnings as these technologies are deployed globally.” “The Institute of Physics believes that the UK needs a secure, clean and safe supply of electricity, generated from a mix of sources which clearly includes the maximum achievable contribution from renewables,” said Robert Kirby-Harris, chief executive of the Institute of Physics. “This report shows that the huge promise of renewables will only be realized if there is sufficient investment in research and development in this field and also in attracting more students into essential subjects such as physics. A simple, clearer system of funding linked to more post-graduate and research opportunities in renewable energy research is urgently needed to kick-start this process.” For a copy of the report, go to the bottom of the following link.
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