UKRI backs six energy research centres with £53m

Energy demand is finally receiving some much-needed attention in the UK as part of a £53m energy R&D package announced by UKRI.

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The new Energy Demand Research Centre is one of six projects that will share in the funding, alongside two new hydrogen hubs and three Supergen research hubs that will focus on distribution, renewables and bioenergy.

“The government has set a target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, requiring rapid decarbonisation of our energy systems,” said Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, chief executive of UKRI. “The funding announced today will support researchers and innovators to develop game changing ideas to improve domestic, industrial and transport energy systems.”

Energy efficiency and demand reduction have been conspicuously absent from the UK government’s Net Zero plans to date, with engineers and academics calling for much more action in areas like building retrofit. According to the International Energy Agency, efficiency and demand reduction can account for more than 40 per cent of the energy-related emissions cuts needed to reach climate goals by 2040.

Based across Newcastle and Sussex universities, the £15m Energy Demand Research Centre will examine consumer behaviour, assessing the impact of socio-technical energy demand reduction measures and research mechanisms to improve energy efficiency. It will also investigate how domestic, industrial and transport energy demand reduction can be delivered on a local and national level across the UK.

£20m will be split between the two new hydrogen hubs. Led by the University of Bath, UK-HyRES Hydrogen Hub will aim to deliver practical hydrogen and alternative liquid fuel technologies. The HI-ACT Hub, led by Newcastle University, will evaluate routes for hydrogen into the wider energy landscape, including interactions with electricity, natural gas, heat, and transport.

The three Supergen hubs will share a £17.5m investment. At Bristol University, the Supergen Energy Networks Impact Hub will investigate modernisation of energy distribution systems between suppliers and users. The Supergen Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Impact Hub, led by Plymouth University, will look to accelerate the impact of current generation and future ORE devices and systems. And at Aston University, the Supergen Bioenergy Impact Hub will explore pathways for delivering bioenergy with a focus on wider social, economic and environmental benefits.

“The global energy sector is facing considerable pressure arising from climate change, depletion of fossil fuels and geopolitical issues around the location of remaining fossil fuel reserves,” said Bristol University’s Professor Philip Taylor, head of the Supergen Energy Networks Impact Hub. “Energy networks exist primarily to exploit and facilitate temporal and spatial diversity in energy production and use and to exploit economies of scale where they exist.

“The modernisation of energy networks’ technology, processes and governance is a necessity for the energy sector to be fit for the future. Good progress has been made in decarbonisation in some areas but this has not been fast enough, widespread enough across vectors or sectors and not enough of the innovation is being deployed at scale. This project will accelerate the development, scale up the deployment and increase the impact delivered.”