More than £3 billion UK research investment to help country meet its 2050 target for net zero emissions

Large white windmills in the sea with a sailboat

According to government figures, more than £3 billion UK research investment has been spent on key research that will help the UK to meet its target for net zero emissions by 2050.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) invested £1.1 billion in its energy programme between 2004 and 2020.

A report by Perspective Economics found that the investment attracted around £2 billion in follow-on funding from academic, charity, public and private contributors.

Among the investments highlighted in the report was a £13.5 million grant to the Supergen Wind Hub, which brings together research by the universities of Strathclyde, Durham, Loughborough, Cranfield, Manchester, Oxford, Surrey, Bristol, Imperial and Dundee alongside STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, at Harwell and the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult.

The investment helped to deliver reductions in the cost of wind energy and make the UK both the highest installer of wind capacity in the world and a global leader in wind research, according to the EPSRC.

Also highlighted was funding for the UK Carbon Capture and Storage Research Centre, which spurred the setting up of six regional carbon capture and storage clusters.

The mission of the UKCCSRC is to ensure that carbon capture and storage (CCS) plays an effective role in helping the UK achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Essential benefits that CCS can help to provide include:

More than 1,200 grants were funded which led to more than 1,000 tangible policy impacts in areas such as sustainability and energy regulation.

Spin-out companies supported by the programme generated around £28.98 million in revenue and employed 180 people. The spin-out companies have also attracted £49.3 million in investment since 2010. The energy programme has involved at least 1,600 unique partners since 2005 in the academic, public, private, and charitable sectors.

Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, EPSRC Executive Chair, said: “This report demonstrates how research funded by EPSRC’s energy programme is helping the UK to take the necessary steps to meet its 2050 net zero targets.

“The rapid growth of renewable resources in delivering UK electricity is an excellent example.

“Our energy programme has helped world-class researchers to become global leaders in energy research, attracting further investment, and stimulating the kind of jobs and growth that are vital to our future economy.

“Helping to deliver net zero is one of the highest priorities for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

“With COP26 being held in November, this report is particularly timely.”

Energy research has received increased funding in the UK since the early 2000s, spurred by the need to reduce emissions whilst ensuring energy security, resilience and affordability. Since 2004 the Energy Programme has invested significant sums of money into energy research at UK Universities, with EPSRC alone having committed c.£1.6 billionn between 2004 and the start of 2020.

In an international context, continuously increasing investment in the UK since 2014 has brought UK energy R&D spending in line with other major European economies. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) data, the UK has also maintained a comparatively balanced energy research budget, the report revealed.