Report Examines Impact of EPSRC’s Energy Programme since 2004

The report provides an insight into the Energy Programme, largely delivered by the EPSRC, which provides funding to UK academic researchers with a focus on energy research.

Perspective Economics has published the findings of a retrospective study into grants funded predominantly by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) under the UK’s Energy Programme.

The Energy Programme was established in 2004 to help the UK meet its energy and environmental targets and policy goals by supporting world-class research and training. The programme provides funding to UK academic researchers with a focus on energy research, and is led by the EPSRC with the involvement of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

The report presents findings and analysis from a two-part study involving an independent review of 17 Energy Programme grants, and an aggregate analysis of data and documentation regarding the Programme in its entirety.

Based on this approach, the report finds that the EPSRC has distributed £1.1 billion in in-scope research areas since 2004 via 1,233 grants, which have been led by 695 Principal Investigators across 84 Research Organisations. Together, researchers supported by the Programme have produced around 23,500 research outputs and delivered more than 1,000 tangible policy impacts, most notably in terms of energy economics, sustainability and energy regulation.

Funding provided through the Energy Programme has supported a wide range of research, from emerging research areas such as microbial fuel cells and hydrogen purification, to broad projects such as whole energy systems and carbon capture and storage. The Programme portfolio has been balanced across Research Areas and is widely distributed across UK regions.

Activities funded through the Energy Programme have successfully garnered follow-on funding from both the public and private sectors, with EPSRC grants securing follow-on funding of around £2 billion from a range of academic, charity, public and private contributors. In addition, as of 2019, spin-out companies supported by the Energy Programme generated known UK revenues of £28.9 million and employed 180 people, while thirteen of these companies had secured a total of £49.3 million of investment since 2010.

The online academic survey also highlighted the Energy Programme’s positive contribution to skills development, indicating that EPSRC funding is successfully supporting the flow of academics into energy research fields and developing the skills and capabilities of UK energy research academics. The Programme was frequently cited as being critical for sustaining UK competitiveness within international research across numerous Research Areas.

However, the report also highlights ongoing concerns over the impact of Brexit on energy research. Responses to the survey frequently highlighted the extent to which current research is reliant upon EU facilities, and warned of the risk that these facilities may soon become unavailable to UK researchers. Respondents also noted the role that EU funding has played in the provision of virtual research infrastructure that may become harder to access or unavailable in the future.

The report further states that sustained investment will be required in order to deliver maximum benefit to UK science and industry, citing the Committee on Climate Change’s statement that the full breadth of research currently funded under the Energy Programme will need to function together to achieve the UK’s net-zero objectives by 2050. Given these concerns, the report concludes by suggesting that future investment in UK energy is more important now than ever before.

Responding to the report’s findings, EPSRC Executive Chair Professor Dame Lynn Gladden said:

‘This report demonstrates how research funded by EPSRC’s energy programme is helping the UK to take the necessary steps to meet its 2050 net zero targets.

‘Our energy programme has helped world-class researchers to become global leaders in energy research, attracting further investment, and stimulating the kind of jobs and growth that are vital to our future economy.

‘Helping to deliver net zero is one of the highest priorities for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

‘With COP26 being held in November, this report is particularly timely.’

The report can be accessed in full at the UKRI website.

(This report was the subject of a ResearchConnect Newsflash.)