Cardiff to lead energy study

Cardiff University has been selected to lead a five-year investigation into sustainable energy supply, one of five themes being addressed through a new programme driven by the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC).

The aim of the overall programme, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), is to provide energy research to inform government, policy makers and other stakeholders.

The other four themes are energy demand, systems and modelling, assessment and short-term policy work and the environment. Theme directors will meet regularly to chart the overall direction.

Cardiff’s School of Engineering has been awarded £498,000 by the UKERC and a further £400,000 by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales to look at issues of prime interest to Wales.

The topics Cardiff will address are the use of smaller, renewable generators, combined heat and power (CHP) biomass plants for small communities and electric vehicles and their capacity for power storage. Nick Jenkins, professor of renewable energy at Cardiff University’s School of Engineering, said: ‘Renewable sources of electricity, such as offshore and onshore wind energy, is particularly important for Wales. We have got the Gwynt y Môr wind farm being built by RWE off the north coast of Wales, areas in mid Wales where the Welsh Assembly has designated certain areas for wind farms, and we have also got particular interest in smaller community-scale developments.’

Jenkins believes that biomass CHP is another key step towards achieving the government’s goal of reaching a 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020. ‘We are investigating district heating schemes, which share the heat from burning biomass through pipes to a dozen houses as some northern European countries do,’ he added. ‘We’ve got to grapple with the problem of what biomass resource is available given the pressures on land, as well as the competing ambitions for biomass resource.’

The investigation into electric vehicles will initially look at the implication for Cardiff and other smaller cities and the consequences for the network. Though current government policy seems to back electric cars, Jenkins admitted other alternatives such as biofuels or hydrogen fuels would seems to be more suited for rural environments.

UKERC’s five-year programme has the overall aim of providing evidence to the policy community. Cardiff hopes to fulfil its role researching energy supply on the basis of its energy engineering expertise. ‘We won’t expect to develop new technology, but we do hope to be rigorous in providing our evidence to support policy formulation,’ added Jenkins.

With the UK renewable energy strategy having a relatively well-defined trajectory up to 2020, the programme will also investigate how the Climate Change Committee’s ambitious goal of completely decarbonising the power sector by 2030 might be achieved.

‘Implementing the changes at anything like the required rate will be a massive challenge,’ said Jenkins. ‘I think the key national challenge is doing it rather than thinking it.’

Berenice Baker