Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200
WEDNESDAY 28 MARCH 2001
BROOK, OBE, AND
200. Just taking up what you have been saying
about where we go from here. There are, of course, a number of
different funders for wave and tide devicesyourselves,
DTI, the European Union, private finance. Who does the co-ordinating
strategy to take the projects all the way from the drawing board
through laboratory testing to full-scale prototypes to development?
Is there anybody around who is going to take that responsibility?
(Professor Brook) It is a plea we often hear that
we should have more strategy
201. Sustainable Energy Czars.
(Professor Brook) Indeed, I think the first recommendation
of this evaluation committee, and there were 30 recommendations
so they were not light on making recommendationswas that
a national energy policy would be very helpful in ensuring that
the research councils could take an appropriate stance within
the system and failing that it would be good if the EPSRC had
the strategy of balance between renewable and classical forms
of energy generation determined. My suspicion is that in a subject
which is so commercially determined in the last analysis it is
difficult to make national plans where you can guarantee that
you will have success. You have to leave it to the commercial
sector to play a role.
202. It is different from leadership, is it
not? I am not quite clear what you are saying there.
(Professor Brook) What I am saying is that research
councils can ensure the information is available, the trained
people are available, the country has the resource necessary to
move into this subject area should the industrial sector within
the United Kingdom decide that the risk justifies the investment.
I am inclined to think that that is as far as we can go and believe
in a successful outcome.
203. The assessment of whether the risk justifies
the investment surely depends on the outcome of research? What
comes first? It is a chicken and egg situation.
(Professor Brook) The task for the research council
is to ensure that the correct research is supported, that the
people who have genuine abilities in this subject are represented
in the community performing the research, and that the results
of the research are made widespread and well-known. In our sector
meetings we try to interest the industrial sector in the work
which has been performed within the EPSRC, we draw it to their
attention and we can allow our colleagues to say: "This is
why we believe in it very strongly." So we provide the information
but the decision whether to invest will be made by the end suppliers.
204. What about when those things come together
though? In the case of wave and tidal power you yourself say that
you can get as far as proof of concept and prototyping but when
you are actually talking about real wave energy devices you say
it is beyond your scope. Do you then see that stage, which looks
as if it is still a research phaseokay using rather big
laboratoriesas not your job any more?
(Professor Brook) It is not beyond our scope because
we wash our hands of it; this is a pragmatic response. We have
£400 million to deploy across the entire engineering and
physical sciences research support system and, as I have indicated,
the cost of going from a proof of concept to a large-scale energy
generating system is enormous and well beyond the resources of
the national research council and therefore you have to be capable
of inviting into the team people who can call upon that level
205. In the case of, say, CERN that is exactly
what happened. In the end you could not do the research without
some very, very expensive machines. If you talk about wave and
tidal power proving it can generate electricity to the right extent,
are you not forced to make some major commitment and some real
investment too at some stage?
(Professor Brook) I do not see CERN as a commercial
organisation. It is a contribution to our international culture.
206. Is that not the point Mr McWalter is making;
it is not a commercial organisation, it is a research organisation
and therefore why can EPSRC not have something (perhaps not quite
as expensive) that is also a research project on a further alternative
energy rather than waiting at a certain stage for a commercial
organisation to pick it up? I think that is precisely the point
Mr McWalter was making.
(Professor Brook) My apologies for not coming to it
more rapidly. I would say CERN is a fundamental research organisation
in an extremely expensive research sector so the style of research
which they conduct is analogous to the type of research we conduct
in renewable energies. CERN is not producing something that in
the end has to go out and survive in a commercial competition.
I am afraid when it comes to energy generation that step is almost
207. CERN is almost an end in itself?
(Professor Brook) Yes.
208. Fine. We have come to the end of our time
but we still have one or two points we would like to raise with
you. Would it be alright if we wrote to you on the one or two
points that are still outstanding and for you to give us a written
response to them?
(Professor Brook) Most certainly.
Chairman: That is most kind of you. Sorry we
cannot go on for longer but, rightly or wrongly, we see ourselves
with a timetable beyond our own control and therefore we are having
two evidence sessions this afternoon and we have to keep them
both to about three-quarters of an hour. Thank you very much indeed
not only for the information you have given to us this afternoon
but for taking the time and effort to come here. All of us who
are asked to go and speak somewhere or do something and are asked
to speak for three-quarters of an hour know that it takes five
hours out of the day to do that and it must be the same for you
and we are very grateful. Thank you both very much.