By Adam Woodhall — The Rushlight Summer Showcase took place at the Royal Geographical Society, London. Appropriately, the event took us on a journey through the flourishing ecosystem that is the UK green and clean economy, including a keynote from the new Minister of State.
This event, at a venue which has seen many explorers report back on their adventures, welcomed 250 cleantech developers and sustainable solution providers, investors, government departments, consultants and intermediaries to cast their eye over an exhibition of over 50 innovative clean technology solutions and hear 44 companies presenting their cutting-edge technologies.
The event was opened by Rob Saunders, Head of Energy at Innovate UK, one of the main sponsors. He commented: “Events like this are really to help innovation thrive in its early stages: supporting innovators to connect with those people they need to meet to help their innovations come to fruition. I urge you in that spirit of exploration and collaboration, to get your best exploring head on today, and find the new routes to a clean sustainable future”
Opening her keynote, Claire Perry, the new Minister of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), was in a particularly confident mood regarding her ministerial brief. This was heartening as she is responsible for carbon budgets, international climate change, green economy, energy efficiency and heat, along with industrial strategy, advanced manufacturing, materials and automotives.
The minister had recently returned from meeting with colleagues from around Europe and enthused: “We are perceived to be a global leader in so many things that we’re doing in this agenda. We are one of very few countries to have actually set and achieved carbon budgets. Our domestic statutory legislation is far more ambitious than that set out by the EU, so people who are worried that Brexit negotiations may just wound back on commitment, should actually not have any concerns. Other countries look at us and think we’re doing really inspirational things, having climate change and energy being in one department, and under one ministerial team, is considered to be absolutely best practice.”
Perry gave two pieces of good news, one which the current government can claim full credit for observing firstly, that “we remain incredibly committed to investing in innovation. We’ve announced some stretch spending targets which will take government’s R&D spending up to the highest level it’s been as a percentage of GDP since the 1970s”. The second was “we have been decoupling GDP growth and emissions for the last 15 years. We’ve had GDP growth of 67 per cent since 1990. Emissions are only up 40 per cent and I want that rate of change to accelerate as a result of the industrial strategy and the key growth plan.”
It appeared that the minister was enjoying getting behind the spreadsheets in her new brief with this comment: “I was very struck in my first week in the department, looking at some of the cost data that suggests we are pretty good in terms of generation costs relative to our European friends and partners. But we lose a lot of that advantage when we’re pumping power into poorly insulated UK homes and this is one of the reasons that household bills are such a problem for so many families. And so, we have a whole new series of innovation competitions trying to focus on the demand side management.”
Whilst it appears the government is committed to R&D, it is with a clear eye on the free market, as she stated: “it was very striking in my old job [as a transport minister] that if you create too much of an eco-system that’s dependent on government, then you do crowd out private sector innovation, supply chain innovation, and that’s something I’m very keen to avoid.”
Perry finished with a flourish stating: “So my door is open. Let me know what I can do to help. Best of luck today. May you all get the funding that you need.”
The main hope is that all these positive words are backed up by a strong and stable long-term policy agenda, with sufficient government investment, to give the right indicators to the market so this ecosystem continues to flourish in the UK.
$5 trillion market
Flourishing ecosystems were highlighted by another speaker, Ben Harris, who is responsible for UK & Ireland Partnerships & Programme Development at Climate-KIC: “For ourselves we see this market as growing, there’s a $5 trillion for low carbon technology and services, but also the enthusiasm to be part of this growing economy is fantastic, with the UK being a strong leader in that.”
“We are seeing emergence in the UK of climate innovation clusters and we are hopefully being a part of facilitating that, with circular economy in London, energy transitions in Birmingham, digital and data driven environment in Edinburgh and work in Dublin around sustainable finance and climate finance. What we’re seeing is UK business, academia, public sector look at new ways and approaches and it’s great that these start-ups will have this opportunity emerge into those ecosystems.”