Characterisation of the field
The scope of the transmission and distribution research topic is broad. It covers the following areas:
For basic and applied strategic research, the range of disciplinary inputs is wide. It includes materials science, chemistry, mechanical and electrical as well as civil engineering.
The assets of the UK power system experienced a period of significant and rapid expansion during the late 1950s and 1960s. They are now approaching the end of their useful life and need to be replaced. Developments in distributed generation and other technologies open important questions as to whether the traditional approaches to development and operation of power systems are still adequate and whether the anticipated major re-investment in transmission and distribution networks could be avoided by adopting new technologies. The electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure is strategically important to the UK and its economy. In a bid to improve economic efficiency, the UK electricity supply industry as whole was liberalised in 1990 introducing competition in the generation and supply segments of the industry. The transmission and distribution segments remained as regulated monopolies. The principal research challenges include the following:
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Table 2.1: UK Capabilities
The UK as a well developed G8 economy with a leading position in international research inidices and university rankings should be well positioned to occupy a leading place in Energy Conversion research as in other areas. However, other factors are less favourable. These relate to public policy and funding structures, institutional tramework, and relative industrial landscape / strength.
Public Policy vis a vis energy research in the UK has been in a state of flux for many years and research has suffered from periods of strong neglect. The break up of the CEGB and the privatisation and “atomisation” of the generation capacity had a profoundly negative effect on directed energy research in the UK (source: interviews). The smaller absolute scale of individual providers (even National Power and Powergen, now the UK arms of RWE and E.ON) made the less able to support generalised research activities. The 1992 closure of CEGB research laboratory at Leatherheadwas such an example. The successor companies to CEGB were also left with relatively more diverse generation assets - ie each inheritor company had a “basket” of assets from different OEMs making their engineering teams more thinly spread. This had the consequence of requiring relatively more resource for sustaining engineering and less for innovative R&D.
Economic changes and regulation have also played a role. Increased regulation on acid emissions and a generallyfalling price of gas in the 1990’s led to the “dash for gas” (now possibly entering a second phase due to CO2 emissions caps and uncertainty over nuclear). This had the tendency of pushing more of the R&D burden on the OEM suppliers of new “low NOx” gas turbines and support for their introduction and management. Consumer price regulation in the 1990’s also provided downward cost pressure on engineering and R&D organisation which fell disproportionally on the “futures” side.
While government policy was not in denial of global warming issues, neither was it strongly in favour of low carbon introduction to the extent of, say, continental European policies towards Wind and Solar. It is no accident that industries supporting wind and solar sprang up preferentially in Germany and Spain vs the UK, together with their supporting R&D infrastructure. The long anticipated draft UK Energy Bill published by the Coalition Governmment in November 2012 has announced an increase to £7.6bn p.a. of the “Green Levy” spending by 2020 to support “decarbonsation”. However, no carbon targets have yet been included and so choices between which green energy technologies will received support are likely to be made on pragmatic grounds rather than a “grand scheme” approach. While much remains unclear about the policy it seems likely that an incremental “business as usual” approach will be adopted to R&D, albeit with perhaps more money available as scale-up is required.
In the United States, energy policy has been more consistently driven by government policy, this time by “Energy Security” imperatives in the wake of Sept 11th 2001. Policy is agreed via a national framework and is implemented by the National Laboratories (eg Oak Ridge, Argonne) who are involved in administering the various funding mechanisms such asARPA-E and SBIR. Until recently, coal gasification was a major recipient; more recently the emphasis has shifted to shale gas recovery and “fracking”.
In the UK, bottom-up efforts (lacking any overall national framework) have been funded by EPSRC and the TSB (fully funded and co-funded, respectively). Generation of ideas is normally led by universities but the role of their long term relationships and familiarity with the power industry is important here. Even given therelative decline of the UK in heavy industry (eg GEC turbine and transformer business passing to foreign ownership and the research intensiveness being consequently diluted), long standing relationships between UK universities and the operating divisions of energy companies present in the UK maintain a moderate-to-good capabilities here.
In the more novel technologies such as solid state and superconducting technologies, the UK maintains excellent basic research capabilities but lacksto some degree the large electrotechnical industrial companies with UK-based research intensity (vs US, Germany, Japan).
Table 2.1: UK Capabilities
Table 3.1: Research Funding | Table 3.2: Key Research Providers
It is possible that private venture “Energy Conversion” projects have been successful in attracting funding but these are harder to identify,
The UKERC database contains details of EPSRCfunded projects going back several years. Nine programmes were identified in the database covering the period 2005 to present; some programs have been completed but are included in the analysis to ensure that research groups with direct relevance were identified.
Projects included in the analysis are associated with the following subject areas (see Section 1).
Generator and transformer research:
Table 3.1: Research Funding
Table 3.2: Key Research Providers
Table 4.1: Research Funding | Table 4.2: Key Research Providers
Ten EPSRC funded projects were identified from the database over the period of study (2005 present), many already completed but included here to ensure that relevant university research groups with particular focus on Energy Conversion are included in the analysis. Average annual award was £200k and thus representative annual spend around £700-800K. Projects included in the analysis are associated with the following subject areas (see Section 1). Conventional generation:
Table 4.1: Research Funding
Table 4.2: Key Research Providers