The Academy's Engineering Policy Committee is currently focusing on the following priority areas:

Energy, climate change and the environment
Digital economy
Engineering technologies
Manufacturing and industry
Medical technologies
Engineering in society

Energy, climate change and the environment

Living without electricity

On 5 December 2015, Storm Desmond caused unprecedented flooding in north Lancashire and Cumbria. In Lancaster, the main electricity sub-station was flooded, cutting electricity supply to 61,000 properties. The loss of power quickly affected many other services that we all take for granted including mobile phones, internet and cash machines. The impacts of the loss of power were the subject of a workshop convened by Lancaster University, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the IET. This report is a summary of that workshop and a consideration of what lessons could be learned from the city’s experience.

Living without electricity (4.06 MB)

Sustainability of liquid biofuels

The Academy has conducted a study on the sustainability of liquid biofuels in UK transport. This was undertaken at the request of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) (now the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) and the Department for Transport (DfT), which both funded the study.

The study conducted an in-depth review the evidence and underlying methodologies for the quantification of the carbon footprints of biofuels. It also reviewed wider sustainability issues such as food security, rural development and social impacts.

The main conclusion is that biofuels can and should play an increased role in decarbonising UK transport, however a risk-based approach to policy is needed to avoid incentivising biofuels that do not meet the carbon savings required. Stronger accreditation schemes are also needed in biofuels, but also across all land-based supply chains, to safeguard against negative social and economic impacts.

Sustainability of liquid biofuels (8.00 MB)

A critical time for UK energy policy

This study, the latest undertaken at the request of the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology, considers the future of the energy system of the UK and how it can deliver against the so-called energy ‘trilemma’ — the need for a system that is secure and affordable as well as low carbon. The main conclusion is that there remain serious risks in the delivery of the optimal energy system for the UK. Government is advised, as a matter of urgency to:

  • Undertake local or regional whole-system, large-scale pilot projects to establish real-world examples of how the future system will work
  • Drive forward new capacity in nuclear, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and offshore wind
  • Develop policies to accelerate demand reduction
  • Clarify and stabilise market mechanisms and incentives

A critical time for UK energy policy (504.06 KB)

Counting the cost

Following on from the 2013 report on the GB electricity capacity margin, the Academy was invited by the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology (CST) to undertake research into the economic and social costs and impacts that would result from shortfalls in electricity supply, within specific sectors and across the UK economy as a whole. The report, Counting the cost, assesses the available evidence base on the potential costs of electricity shortfalls. This is important in order to help policymakers understand the cost/benefit trade-off from investing in greater levels of capacity or resilience to disruption.

Counting the cost (581.35 KB)

Wind energy

With wind energy set to play an expanding role in the UK’s energy system, the Academy has carried out a study on the implications of large-scale deployment of wind energy on the UK electricity system. The report, published in 2014, concentrated mainly on the engineering implications of wind energy from design, operation and integration into the national grid system. In addition to the engineering issues, costs and carbon emissions are also considered as the UK tries to move towards solving the ‘trilemma’ of secure, affordable and low-carbon energy. The study considered a medium timeframe up to 2030.

Wind Energy: implications of large-scale deployment on the GB electricity system (2.72 MB)

Made for the future

We all carry our own carbon footprint: from our car journeys to heating our homes, everyday life has an impact on energy and material resources. While individuals have responsibility for minimising our use of energy and resources, engineers have a significant role in designing domestic technologies to achieve greater efficiency and less waste. This study, which was published in 2013,  looked at the whole lifecycle of domestic technologies, examining the role of engineering innovation in each step.

Made for the future: challenges in creating a sustainable domestic supply chain (1.05 MB)

GB electricity capacity margin

In 2013, a study was undertaken at the request of the Prime Minister's Council for Science and Technology (CST) to explore whether the capacity margin of the GB electricity system could reach unacceptably low levels within this decade.

GB electricity capacity margin: A report by the Royal Academy of Engineering for the Council for Science and Technolog (399.24 KB)

Future ship powering options

A study, published in 2013, explored current and potential future marine propulsion systems, measuring them against the twin but related objectives of energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. The report followed a working party of more than 20 eminent engineering experts, led by Professor John Carlton FREng, Professor of Marine Engineering at City University London. Options investigated included greater use of LNG (liquefied natural gas) in current power units, battery and alternative fuel technologies, and nuclear-powered ships. No single or simple answer was identified that will meet every need or that can be applied to every type of vessel. Instead, further work is needed to adapt current technologies from the maritime industries and elsewhere to broader application in different types of ship and to research and develop innovative technologies specifically for maritime propulsion.

Future ship powering options: Exploring alternative methods of ship propulsion (5.79 MB)

Electric vehicles

Electric vehicles hold the promise, if widely adopted, of drastically reducing carbon emissions from surface transport and could, therefore, form a major plank in the UK’s efforts to meet the binding emissions reduction targets enshrined in the 2008 Climate Change Act. This report, published in 2010, considers the implications of electric vehicles becoming mainstream by 2050.

Electric vehicles: charged with potential (1.87 MB)

Heat: degrees of comfort

A study, published in 2012, considered the future of provision and use of heat in the UK economy out to 2050. If the UK is to meet legally binding carbon emissions targets in the future, the way we both use and produce heat will have to change radically in the next 40 years - but what technologies will become dominant and what will be the impact on the average UK householder?

Heat: degrees of comfort (1.13 MB)

Decommissoning in the North Sea

A workshop was held in  to discuss the decommissioning of oil and gas platforms in the North Sea.

Decommissioning in the North Sea (1.21 MB)

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Digital economy

Connecting data: driving productivity and innovation

Connecting data: driving productivity and innovation, published in November 2015, investigates how the UK can create a 'data-enabled economy' through the use of data analytics (more colloquially 'big data'), supported by data science and advanced connectivity. It follows on from two workshops run by the Academy in 2014 on opportunities for engineers in 'big data' and 5G.

The report examines the future opportunities for organisations and sectors to improve products and processes and to innovate using data analytics, and explores barriers to success, both universal and sector-specific. The sectors investigated were advanced manufacturing, built environment, energy, transport, health, aerospace and defence, and insurance.

The key issues that need to be addressed in order to create a data-enabled economy include:

  • The need to deploy engineering best practice in areas such as software development
  • Investment in broadband services to achieve performance equivalent to targets set by the EU digital agenda
  • The investigation of methodologies that allow the value of data assets to be formally recognised
  • The development of industry standards, where appropriate
  • The exploration of mechanisms for creating markets in data that permit access to proprietary but potentially valuable data
  • A need to develop the necessary multi-disciplinary skills, and to share best practice

During 2016, the Academy will be following up recommendations that address the key issues with interested stakeholders.

Connecting data: driving productivity and innovation (4.20 MB)

Smart buildings

The Academy produced a report of a roundtable discussion looking at the design, creation and use of smart buildings. The roundtable brought together architects, engineers and ICT experts to consider ways to reduce energy use, enable supported living and provide valuable services.

Smart buildings: people and performance (1.33 MB)

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Engineering technologies

'Innovation in...' events

The Academy runs a series of events about the latest developments in specific sectors that will affect society in the next five to ten years. Events in the series so far have included:

Innovation in space (1.64 MB)

Innovation in agri-tech (1.78 MB)

Innovation in autonomous systems (1.52 MB)

Innovation in aerospace (2.07 MB)

Innovation in energy (1.47 MB)

Innovation in materials (1.34 MB)

Innovation in medical technologies (1.05 MB)

Innovation in automotive (946.54 KB)

Innovation in technology-based companies (1.35 MB)

Innovation in construction

Space weather: impacts on engineered systems, infrastructure and society 

Extreme space weather events have recently been identified as an important risk to the UK’s national infrastructure and in 2011 they were, for the first time, included as part of the National Risk Assessment (NRA). In 2013, the Academy explored the engineering and societal impacts of extreme space weather. 

Space Weather full report (2.65 MB)

Space Weather summary report (1.43 MB)

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Built for living

Built for living: understanding behaviour and the built environment through engineering and design, was published in July 2015 by the Academy with Arup and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It follows three workshops held at RIBA, Arup and the Academy that explored the relationships between design, engineering and human behaviour. Three areas where the interplay between people and the built environment is key were explored:

  • The use of resources, particularly energy and water, and the production of waste
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Productivity and performance

The report presents case study examples and a set of design principles to help stakeholders consider key behavioural issues when designing and engineering the built environment. Recommendations are made to built environment stakeholders, research funding bodies and policymakers. In particular, the report recommends that built environment policies take account of behavioural issues, and emphasises the need for an integrated policy approach that considers interdependencies between different interventions.

Built for living: understanding behaviour and the built environment through engineering and design (3.48 MB)

Future cities

In 2014, the Academy held a workshop exploring how cities function as a system of interdependent sectors and stakeholders. An online interactive tool explains this system and three case studies show examples of different organisations innovating together in partnership to enact change.

Navigating the city’s ecosystem of organisations

Transport congestion

Transport congestion is the subject of the Academy’s first ‘challenge paper’, a discussion document authored by expert Fellows with the aim of stimulating debate on an issue of national concern.

The paper addresses the growing problem of congestion on the UK’s road and rail networks and assesses the technical practicality of various measures to get more out of them, either to buy time before new infrastructure can be delivered or as the most effective means optimising existing capacity.

It recommends that government should develop an integrated strategy for tackling road and rail congestion and that such a strategy must maximise the impact of any measure by carefully packaging different technologies and policy measures together. It also finds that, of all the available interventions considered, efficient pricing on the road network offers the single best way of tackling congestion. The paper recognises that this is not currently popular with either politicians or the public, but that a well-designed system could attract popular support and achieve substantial reduction in levels of congestion. 

The Transport Congestion Challenge (5.25 MB)

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Manufacturing and industry

Additive manufacturing and 3D printing

This roundtable workshop, held in 2013, explored the potential benefits of additive manufacturing processes and how they might affect the UK economy.

Additive manufacturing: opportunities and constraints (1.25 MB)

Industrial systems

The Academy carried out a study into the nature of modern industrial systems, and the place and value of manufacturing in the complex system of product design, manufacture, delivery and maintenance. A report was published in April 2012.

Industrial systems: capturing value through manufacturing (800.10 KB)

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Medical technologies

Royal Academy of Engineering Panel for Biomedical Engineering

Information about an established series of activities and reports promoting and developing biomedical engineering can be is available on the Panel for Biomedical Engineering pages.

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Engineering in society

Professional engineering governance

A briefing paper, published in 2012, addressing the role engineers play in making strategic high-level decisions in a wide range of organisations from private companies, both big and small, and government agencies. Based on responses from a number of Fellows of the Academy the report discusses why engineering advice is important, the risks associated with inadequate engineering advice and how such advice can be sourced and used.

Professional engineering governance: the critical need for quality engineering advice in the boardroom (2.50 MB)

UK procurement

This project explored best practice in procurement across government and industry, and looks at how government procurement can stimulate innovation and growth. Through a series of workshops bringing together key figures in government and engineering practice, the key issues in improving procurement are explored – from managing risk to changing behaviour.The project report was published in 2014.

Public projects and procurement in the UK: sharing experience and changing practice (330.69 KB)

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