The Treasury has confirmed to save-wye.org that the £1 billion National Insititute for Energy Technologies — announced in last week’s Budget — will be sited on a university campus and that Imperial College is the front-runner.
In an exclusive briefing to save-wye.org, a senior official in the Treasury has confirmed what many people in Wye suspect: that Imperial College, with its proven expertise in fuel research, is likely to play a lead role in the Government’s urgent search for alternatives to fossil fuels and is the favourite to host the insititute when it is up and running in 2017.
The plans for the institute — to be financed by money from both the public and private sectors — ties in neatly with Imperial’s ambition to research biofuels and other sustainable energy sources at its proposed Wye Park. In November, Imperial launched its own ‘Energy Futures Lab’ to research technologies ‘such as carbon capture, fossil fuel engineering, renewable energy resources and fuel cells’. That venture is being run in conjunction with BP — one of the companies which has offered to fund the new national institute. The other companies are Electricité de France (the owners of London Energy and Seeboard), Shell and E-on (the German electricity giant which owns Powergen).
It also launched its £4.5 million Urban Energy Systems project — an initiative to study how energy is used by cities and how communities can use power, heating, transport and water more efficiently or how communities can be arranged to reduce commuting traffic. Both projects are currently sited at Imperial’s South Kensington campus. Under the plans announced by Gordon Brown last week, the new national laboratory would start small as a ‘virtual’ project before the main insitute opened by 2017. The timescale is uncannily similar to that announced by Imperial for the three-stage development of its project in Wye.
The Treasury official said that, although Imperial had not lobbied the Chancellor directly in advance of the Budget, the department was aware of its interest in this area. He said: “The reason that Imperial might well have asked is that there is a plan to site this new energy institute at one or several universities to save on bricks and mortar. Imperial has a strength in this field so I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the end, they did benefit.’
Meanwhile, Imperial College has confirmed that it is looking closely at the Government’s plan for the national institute. A spokesman for the college said: ‘The National Institute for Energy Technologies is an interesting new proposal from the Government, tackling an area of growing national and international concern through science and engineering, and one which the college, with its strategic interest in energy, will look at closely.
‘The Government’s proposal is not directly linked to the college’s vision for the Wye campus. The College launched its Energy Futures lab last year at which time it also announced the BP Urban Energy Systems initiative.’