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ENERGY EFFICIENCY Section 3 Basic and applied strategic research
 Author  Prof Bob Lowe
University College London (UCL)
with assistance of Dr Jim Halliday
STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
 Last Updated  30 April 2014
 Status  Peer reviewed document
 Download Landscape  PDF 545 KB

 
Section :

Table 3.1: Research Funding | Table 3.2: Key Research Providers

The task of defining what is basic and strategic research in this area turns out not to be a simple one. First and foremost, basic research is not necessarily the same as strategic research, particularly in a period when the environment that drives research objectives is characterised by deployment of rafts of technology and social, political and economic interventions, at unprecedented rates, with the aim of successfully negotiating the third great transformation in human ecology since theend of the last Ice Age (the first two were the development of agriculture, and the transition to a fossil-fuelled economy).

To a building physicist and materials scientist, basic and strategic research in the domain of energy efficiency of residential and commercial buildings would probably include:

  • the establishment of basic physical data on building materials and systems (thermo-hygral properties such as conductivity and moisture diffusivity, U values and relatedproperties for building systems)
  • the development of techniques to measure and model the above, and, for example, to support field measurement as well as laboratory measurement
  • the development of new materials and systems with properties that improve on existing.
Engineers and physicists would be likely to add to the above, the development of new or improved energy conversion systems such as heat pumps, fuel cells, light sources (of which the development of the LEDs is the most recent example). In principle, the development of low exergy systems for energy distribution should fall into this category. As an example, systems engineers and some physicists might want to include the 4th Generation District Heating Technologies and Systems (4DH) project, currently being led by Aalborg University in Denmark under the heading of basic and strategic research. But 4DH applies fundamental principles that have been understood for more than 140 years, and to a thermodynamicist it would probably look more like plumbing than basic research. Despite this, if successful, the project holds the promise of strategic impact on a range of energy systems (for example, heat pumps, and not just in the context of district heating). But the programme of work is highly applied, with significant involvement from industry indeed, it is hard to see how the work could be conducted without such involvement - and if undertaken in the UK might well have been funded by the ETI or the TSB.

The purpose of this short discussion has been to illustrate (from a particular and deliberately limited perspective) some of the tensions implicit in the title of this section of the Landscape Document. RCUK are clearly aware of the problem, and have taken steps to address it e.g. through support for, and collaboration with, ETI and, in the future, with TSB.

As noted at the beginning of this document, there are many disciplines, other than physics and engineering that are involved in researching energy efficiency in buildings. From the perspectives of these disciplines, the range of what might be considered to be basic and strategic research is even wider. To give some examples from one more disciplinary perspective, to a social scientist, basic research might include the theoretical work of Theodore Schatzki on the inter-relationships between social practices and material arrangements, which has the capacity to illuminate the processes and consequences of innovation. It might also include the development of systems to collect data that describe empirically the interplay between social practices and infrastructure. And it might include the structure, practices and culture of the construction industry, and their relationship to innovation and building and system performance.

For the purposes of this document, the procedural definition of basic and strategic research is research that is funded by the research councils. One example has already been given to illustrate the problematic nature of this definition - the fact that recent and arguably fundamental work on in situ U values of walls has been funded by Historic Scotland, English Heritage, and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. A second example is the work of Leeds Metropolitan University on the physical and forensic measurement of the physical performance of buildings, most of which has been undertaken with funding from a mix of sources including Joseph Rowntree Foundation, TSB, the National Trust, Partners In Innovation (a precursor to TSB) and industry. As well as supporting the development and refinement of techniques such as co-heating testing, the work has demonstrated the existence of a technical design to as-built performance gap in both new and refurbished dwellings. How and to what extent this gap can be closed is likely to be one of the most important questions for the energy efficiency in buildings community in the coming decade.

Structure of Research Council Support

Research Council support for Energy Research is organised through the RCUK Energy Programme. Current priorities of the Energy Programme are:
  • taking a whole systems approach to energy options, supply and usage
  • ensuring a rapid exploitation through collaboration with ETI
  • growing our portfolio in demand reduction and transport
  • focusing our postgraduate training through energy themes
  • continuing to support research in sustainable power generation and supply and alternative sources.
The largest portion of funding both to the Energy Programme and to Energy Efficiency in Buildings comes from EPSRC. Energy Efficiency in Buildings sitsprimarily within the EPSRC s Energy Theme under the sub-theme Energy Efficiency (End Use Energy Demand), but with significant support from the Digital Economy, Information & Communication Technology, and Manufacturing the Future themes. Energy demand is intimately linked with whole system modelling, and with several social science themes including local and community governance, community engagement, the study of social practices, public beliefs and behaviours and the role of media, and the study of sustainable life styles.

A feature of the last decade has been a growing recognition that Energy Demand research has been underfunded and insufficiently structured.

As of 1 April 2011, Energy Demand represented just 6.7 of EPSRC’s investment in Energy (though because of the difficulty of defining energy demand research precisely, this may represent an underestimate). Steps to address this joint problem have included the development of the Energy Demand Theme in the EPSRC/NERC/ESRC- funded UKERC, the 2009 TEDDI (Transforming Energy Demand Through Digital Innovation) and the 2011 BuildTEDDI (Transforming Energy Demand in Buildings through Digital Innovation) programmes, the People Energy and Buildings Programme (supported by a strategic partnership between EPSRC and EDF), the London - Loughborough Centre for Doctoral Research in Energy Demand, and most recently, the establishment of five End Use Energy End Centres. In the following we attempt to set outboth the structure and current content of RCUK support for Energy Efficiency in Buildings research.

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Table 3.1: Research Funding

                             
 Programme  Funding Agency  Description  Committed Funds  Period  Representative Annual Spend
RCUK Energy Programme RCUK The RCUK programme focuses on energy-efficient processes for saving energy from domestic lighting and appliances. It also addresses the social and economic issues that influence how we use technology and how much we are prepared to pay for energy-saving products. It has number of collaborations with both public sector and industrial partners to ensure exploitation of energy efficiency research. £39M for all activities Ongoing  
End Use Energy Demand (EUED) Research Centres EPSRC, ESRC, industry Five End Use Energy Demand (EUED) research centres, that look into the complexities of energy use across society and how energy can be both saved and used more efficiently, receive over £26 million funding from two research councils, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and a further £13 million from industrial partners. The five centres, each funded for five years, are :   £39 million 2013-2018  
BuildTEDDI EPSRC The Research Councils’ Energy and Digital Economy programmes are seeking to support joint research projects concerned with the application of digital technologies to transform energy demand reduction within the envelope of a single building. BuildTEDDI (Transforming Energy Demand In Buildings Through Digital Innovation) follows on from the earlier TEDDI (Transforming Energy Demand Through Digital Innovation) programme. BuildTEDDI projects were launched in March 2012. £6 million March 2012-  
Centres for Doctoral Training EPSRC EPSRC-funded centres for doctoral training provide a supportive and exciting environment for students to carry out a challenging PhD-level research project together with taught coursework. Includes the London-Loughborough Centre, focussing on the complex, multidisciplinary task of driving down energy demand and CO2 emissions from the UK building stock. £7.3M 2009-2018 £850K
UK Energy Research Centre Phase II NERC The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) is funded through NERC’s for the Towards a Sustainable Energy Economy (TSEC) programme, but with funding also coming from the EPSRC and the ESRC. UKERC carries out world-class research into sustainable future energy systems. It is the hub of UK energy research and the gateway between the UK and the international energy research communities. Energy Demand in Buildings is a sub-theme of the Energy Demand theme.

In 2012, RCUK indicated that it would consider a bid for a 3rd round of funding for UKERC.
£4.3M for Energy Demand Theme 2009-2014 £850K
Cross-Discipline Interface EPSRC The cross-discipline interface programme aims to support the next generation of talented cross disciplinary researchers throughout their academic careers, identify emerging research and training opportunities at cross-disciplinary interfaces, fund transformative research at targeted cross disciplinary interfaces, and contribute to knowledge exchange between academia and users of cross-disciplinary research. This includes cross-research council projects such as Energy and Communities Collaborative Venture (with ESRC)   ongoing  
EPSRC Fellowships EPSRC Academic fellowships are available for academics at three stages of their careers: postdoctoral, early and established career researchers. There are open calls via universities for proposals in pre-set areas, including energy.   ongoing  
Information & Communication Technology EPSRC The ICT programme aims to bring information technology to energy building systems including human-computer interaction and research related to the digital economy programme.   ongoing  
Infrastructure & International EPSRC In the area of energy research, these grants are for cross-disciplinary research with an international partner.   ongoing  
Materials, Mechanical and Medical Engineering EPSRC The Materials, Mechanical and Medical Engineering programme seeks to improve understanding of the principles and practice of mechanical engineering. This involves the application of insight derived from the physical, computational, social and life sciences to the analysis, design, manufacture and operation of engineering systems. The programme has specific foci on mechanical systems, materials processing and medical engineering.   ongoing  
Process Environment and Sustainability EPSRC This supports research and training in process engineering (the design, operation and maintenance of processes for chemicals and materials manufacture), the built environment, structural and ground engineering, water engineering, waste, pollution, and transport operations & management. The Programme also has responsibility for responsive mode support for energy.   ongoing  
Public Engagement EPSRC This programme seeks pioneer new ways of stimulating research across disciplines and breaking down the barriers to multidisciplinary collaboration. Now known as Pathways to Impact.   ongoing  
User-Led Research EPSRC Discretionary grants given to researchers on a one-off basis.   ongoing  
People, Energy and Buildings EDF/EPSRC EDF and EPSRC have entered into a strategic partnership and Energy Efficiency/Demand Reduction in buildings is the first research area in which EDF and EPSRC are developing an activity. The research Councils Energy Programme (RCEP) and EDF have invested £4 million in a collaborative research programme in the general area of the social and economic sciences of energy efficiency in buildings. £4M 2009-2013 £1M
Tyndall Centre Energy and Emissions Theme Initially NERC, EPSRC and ESRC; now universities and grants The Tyndall Research Centre opened in November 2000, with core funding from NERC, EPRSC and ESRC and with support from the DTI (now BIS). The Tyndall Centre has been one of the more significant developments in this area, with links to centres of expertise in the built environment (UMIST), climate science (Climate Research Unit UEA and Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research) and social and political science (CSERGE, UEA).

The Tyndall Centre Energy Theme is framed by the need for a sustainable energy transformation, and considers a multitude of issues and perspectives: from technologies and economies to behaviours and societies; from micro-scale to systemic; from retrospective to prospective; from mitigation to adaptation. The Energy Theme brings together natural and physical scientists, social scientists, engineers and economists to conduct interdisciplinary and policy relevant research.
The Centre was funded by Research Council grants until 2010, now funded by the participant Universities, and specific project grants 2000 -  

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Table 3.2: Key Research Providers

                                 
 Name  Description  Sub-topics covered  No of staff  Field
De Montfort University: Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development (IESD) The Institute employs a multi-disciplinary team of Professors, Lecturers and Researchers - supported by higher degree students - who are respected internationally for the quality of their work. Their disciplines range from mathematics and physics, through engineering, to economics, sociology and psychology. This enables them to lead multi-disciplinary projects that address environmental, economic and social research problems.
  • People and Energy
  • Sustainable urbanism
10 faculty,
15 researchers,
18 PhD students
Geography and Environmental Sciences
Imperial College: Digital Economy Lab Through connecting citizens, business and government to real-time intelligence and enabling ‘smart’ decision making, the Digital Economy could revolutionise almost every aspect of our everyday lives leading to better monitoring and controlling of infrastructure to reduce CO2 emissions and waste.
  • People and Energy
2 faculty,
3 researchers,
3 PhD students
Business and Management Studies
Department of Sociology and Lancaster Environment Centre Lancaster University Department of Sociology: Current research includes examining the relationship between consumption, everyday practice and ordinary technology. Leads the EUED DEMAND: Dynamics of Energy, Mobility and Demand Centre - partners include the universities of Aberdeen, Birmingham, Leeds, Reading, Southampton, Sheffield, Sussex, Birkbeck College ,and UCL. Lancaster Environment Centre: Special interests : how energy is related to notions of need, rights and justice; on the work of energy managers using energy management and control systems; on the dynamics of energy use in everyday life
  • People and buildings
  Sociology
Loughborough University: Civil and Building Engineering The civil and engineering department of Loughborough University specialises in energy efficiency and low carbon technologies for the built environment. The department centres on the understanding of energy use in buildings as a science discipline.
  • Sustainable construction
  • Buildings energy modelling
  • Energy monitoring
  • HVAC systems development
  •  
23 faculty,
28 researchers,
44 PhD students
Civil Engineering
Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University The ECI work on energy concentrates on understanding the links between social and individual behaviour, technologies, policy formulation and markets. It is organised by themes : The energy in buildings theme encompasses work on low energy buildings and appliances, low-carbon housing refurbishment and energy management; the behaviour and society theme includes research on energy demand and low-carbon communities; and the policy, equity, security and fuel poverty theme investigates practices, supply chain, governance and policy related to energy systems, as well as carbon markets and futures analysis, and fuel poverty.
  • Energy in buildings
  • Behaviour and society
  • Policy, equity, security and fuel poverty
13 researchers Architecture and the Built Environment
Energy Systems Research Unit, Strathclyde University ESRU undertook fundamental work on dynamic thermal simulation and building physics simulation throughout the 80s and 90s. Current research within ESRU is concerned with the development and testing of new methods and technologies for energy reduction and supply, and the evolution of computational tools to assist designers in their attempts to devise clean and sustainable solutions. ESRU has developed HUE a housing energy model (which can be applied at National housing stock level, community or Local Authority level or to individual dwelling level) designed to support domestic carbon and energy policy formulation, carbon foot-printing and roadmap formulation, strategic or concept low carbon design, carbon and energy performance rating, and cost effective improvement identification
  • Building environment and energy modelling
  Architecture and the Built Environment
University of Bath: BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials The Centre conducts leading research, development and consultancy in the field of innovative and sustainable construction materials. Developing the use of radical, low-carbon building materials and reinforcement technologies for the construction industry, the centre is assisting in reducing the UK s eco footprint - vital to mitigate the projected doubling of cement-based CO2 emissions by 2050.
  • Sustainable construction
  • Materials science
15 faculty,
10 researchers,
25 PhD students
Civil Engineering
University of Cambridge : The Martin Centre for Architectural and Urban Studies The sustainable building group addresses issues related to the modelling, design, construction, monitoring and use of buildings, both in the UK and internationally, developing innovative technologies, methodologies and tools for sustainable design. Coordinated within the Cambridge Energy Efficient Cities Initiative with Departments of Engineering, Architecture, Chemical Engineering, Computer Science, JBS and BP Institute at the University of Cambridge.
  • Sustainable construction
  • Energy monitoring
3 faculty,
3 researchers,
10 PhD students
Architecture and the Built Environment
University of Cambridge: Materials Science & Metallurgy Work includes solid-state lighting to reduce electricity consumption, materials for higher-temperature (and therefore more efficient) gas turbines, innovative processing for energy-efficient materials extraction, lighter weight materials for energy-efficient transport, more efficient refrigeration, lower-energy electronics, and sensors for efficient control.
  • Materials science
  • Building controls
5 faculty,
7 researchers,
10 PhD students
Metallurgy and Materials
University College London: UCL Energy Institute and Bartlett School of Graduate Studies The UCL Energy Institute brings together different perspectives, understandings and procedures in energy research, transcending the boundaries between academic disciplines. There is some crossover with the Complex Built Environment Systems group (CBES) in the Bartlett School of Graduate Studies. CBES is a team of academics working together to gain a deeper understanding of the physical performance of built environment choices and their implications for energy use, health, conservation, productivity and climate change.
  • Building environment and energy modelling
  • Energy monitoring
  • Data frameworks and analysis
  • People and Energy
38 faculty,
35 researchers,
45 PhD students
Architecture and the Built Environment
Science, Technology and Innovation Studies, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh The Group are working on the theme of innovation studies, and includes studies of energy systems, and thus offers impartial, evidence-based advice to public and private stakeholders
  • Policy, equity, security and fuel poverty
  Politics and International Studies
Energy Policy Group, University of Exeter The Energy Policy Group (EPG) at the University of Exeter specialises in the interdisciplinary study of energy policy, placing sustainability and change at the heart of debates about energy policy and governance. The Group works collaboratively with stakeholders and researchers on the economics and politics of energy to find new and innovative approaches for enabling the transition to a low carbon, sustainable and affordable energy system.
  • Policy, equity, security and fuel poverty
6 faculty,
9 PhD students
Politics and International Studies
University of Manchester: Manchester Architectural Research Centre Work lead by social construction of design, principally focusing on the field of sustainable architecture. Research into the nature of urban sustainability as it is played out within competing discourses of green building. Also research work on urban climatology and its relationship with urban and building design and the planning process; and studying the social scientific understanding of habitual behaviour in areas of everyday consumption with consequences for sustainability; and investigating the issue of energy consumption as a socio-technical phenomenon by unpacking the social and material dimensions of energy and carbon challenges related to ‘thermal experience’ in domestic settings
  • Sustainable urbanism
  • Urban climatology
  • People and buildings
5 faculty,
3 researchers,
3 PhD students
Architecture and the Built Environment
University of Plymouth: Environmental Building The main research concentrations of this group are in the fields of building science and technology and construction management. Projects deal with a breadth of sub-topics, like for instance thermography, laboratory and in-situ measurements of thermal and humidity properties of building materials, building performance simulation, off-site construction, low and zero carbon technologies, POE (Post Occupancy Evaluation), building operational conditions and control (including occupant behaviour and climate change), values and attitudes regarding sustainability, and many others.
  • Sustainable construction
  • Materials science
  • People and buildings
5 faculty,
5 researchers,
10 PhD students
Architecture and the Built Environment
University of Reading: Construction Management and Engineering Research in energy efficiency in buildings at Reading is centred in the Technologies for Sustainable Built Environments (TSBE) Centre. The TSBE is structured around sustainable building and services systems, energy management in buildings and infrastructure systems.
  • Sustainable construction
12 faculty,
18 researchers,
5-10 PhD students
Civil Engineering
University of Southampton: Electronics and Computer Science Research of electronics and computer science related to energy efficiency of buildings. Includes research into agent-based modelling and intelligent systems for energy management and smart buildings and developing low-powered devices to feed this data to occupants in the future.
  • Photonics
  • Agent-based modelling
5 faculty,
10 researchers,
6 PhD students
Computer Science and Informatics
The Sussex Energy Group, University of Sussex The Group specialises in research in two areas :
  1. Transitions to sustainable energy systems. Research under this theme looks principally at the dynamics of both established and new energy systems at various scales: locally, nationally, and internationally. It also analyses the processes that are helping and hindering transitions to more sustainable, low carbon energy systems. Insights from these projects inform many of our engagements with and recommendations to policy-makers, businesses and civil society organisations.
  2. Governance of sustainable energy systems. Under this theme, we analyse the formulation and implementation of energy policies locally, nationally and internationally. This includes studying the way industry, government and civil society identify and promote particular energy challenges and options. We focus on how governments intervene with policies and other measures to guide the development of energy systems - and the often complex process of balancing policy objectives including emissions reduction, enhanced energy security and socially just access to energy.
  • Behaviour and society
  • Policy, equity, security and fuel poverty
12 faculty,
10 researchers,
11 PhD students
Sociology
Politics and International Studies

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