NERC research boosts UK energy industry

8 October 2015

NERC research creates enormous benefits for the energy sector; over its 50-year lifetime it's helped the UK keep the lights on while developing new, cleaner power options.

That's the conclusion of an independent analysis by Deloitte commissioned by NERC, which estimates that the country's sustainable energy generation and resource extraction industries have all been stimulated by NERC's £6·6 million yearly investment in science relevant to the field.

In wind energy, a new development providing one gigawatt of power in Eskdalemuir, Scotland was allowed to progress to the planning and construction phase, partly because NERC science showed it posed no threat to human health or to the functioning of a nearby Ministry of Defence installation. This new capacity created gross value added for the UK economy estimated at £1·2 billion over 25 years in present value terms, or an annual average of £50 million.

Separately, scientists at NERC's National Oceanography Centre (NOC) showed that offshore windfarms do not contribute to coastal erosion, saving the industry £3·6 million in coastal erosion monitoring.

Professor Duncan Wingham, NERC chief executive, said:

I'm extremely proud of our achievement. This analysis illustrates the value of NERC science to society and to our economy. Sustainable energy generation and resource extraction are important parts of the UK economy and build the UK's energy independence, reducing vulnerability to external shocks. NERC is proud to be a funder of research that enables new industries and efficient regulation. The findings demonstrate that blue-sky research can deliver high returns.

Annual NERC investment of £1·7 million in research relevant to nuclear energy has helped develop the UK's geological disposal industry, generating commercial income of around £1 million every year for international advice on how radioactive gases diffuse through rocks. Also NERC research into the effects of radioactivity on wildlife at NERC's Centre for Ecology & Hydrology has saved the public sector £655,000 a year through revisions of the UK Post-Chernobyl Monitoring Programme and ceasing annual payments to farmers.

In shale gas, NERC's British Geological Survey's (BGS) assessments of the Bowland Basin have identified trillions of cubic metres of new shale gas resources. NERC investment has also enabled the industry to develop safely. The NERC-funded National Geological Repository (NGR) has lowered barriers to entry in both shale and conventional oil industries. It makes available more than 23,000 UK drill-cores, letting energy firms avoid unnecessary drilling costs of around £12 million. Based on NGR's contribution to the sector's overall R&D spend, it is estimated that every year it adds around £390 million of value.

BGS was also central to developing new geomagnetic methods for surveying well boreholes, meaning smaller energy reserves can be targeted and more oil and gas extracted. This has reduced drill time, generating cost savings of up to £330,000 per day for deep-water drilling.

BGS and NOC are collaborating with industry to generate seafloor mapping data collected through the Marine Environmental Mapping Programme (MAREMAP), reducing cost for resource extraction industries, improving the accuracy of resource assessments and avoiding duplication of expensive seafloor mapping.

Finally, in the carbon capture and storage (CCS) industry, BGS was the first organisation to identify CCS as a viable option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, giving the UK a competitive advantage and helping it meet carbon emissions targets at lower cost.

NERC research has identified that a cumulative carbon emissions target is a better way to limit climate change than annual targets. Shell has identified this as central to its decision to invest $1·35bn in a Canadian CCS facility.

Further information

Tamera Jones
NERC media office
01793 411561
07917 557215


1. NERC - the Natural Environment Research Council - is the leading funder of independent research, training and innovation in environmental science in the UK. This year marks NERC's 50th anniversary.

2. Every year, NERC has invested £600,000 in research relevant to a range of energy sectors, including wind energy, £1·7 million in nuclear energy research, £800,000 in shale gas research, £1·6 million in oil and gas research, and £1·9 million in carbon capture and storage technologies. This investment has supported the development of energy industries through attracting private investment, developing new technology, and increasing competition by lowering barriers to entry. It's also helped drive more efficient regulation of energy companies.