Innovation – crucial for net-zero carbon UK

New technologies, more efficient products and improved ways of working – coupled with a circular economy mentality, renewable energy and big behavioural changes by us all as consumers – are essential for a complete low-carbon transition. They also make good business sense.


Big advances from little inspirations grow

Victorian engineering, clever 20th century ideas and smart 21st century thinking have brought us to where we are today – a rapidly heating world with toxic waste streams and hard-to-meet growth ambitions. Something different is needed.

But recent messages are mixed and confusing. While the UK now has a binding net-zero 2050 emissions target, Heathrow airport – described as Britain’s largest carbon emitter – wants to build a third-runway. This means that to meet our overriding legal and moral obligations, large, medium and small low-carbon innovations are needed more urgently than ever before.

Fortunately, we have inspiring examples on our doorstep. The Energy Ace case study later in this piece shows the Chamber Low Carbon (CLC) team in action speeding up the company’s innovation route to market.

It also illustrates how the £4 million part-European funded programme helps to remove barriers that many businesses find it hard to shift.

Grit and determination

Traditionally, taking good ideas to market has been linked to vision but mostly shear hard work. Entrepreneur, Thomas Edison, didn’t foresee the low-energy LED. But as inventor of the incandescent light bulb he described genius as “… 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”.

As encouragement, he added, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” – a path familiar to modern day entrepreneur, James Dyson, who developed more than 5,000 revolutionary vacuum cleaner prototypes over 15 years before eventual success in 1993.

Edison also said, “Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless”.

Smoothing the path

To remove the hassle faced by earlier pioneers for sustainable inventiveness, part of the CLC mission is to support innovative-breakthroughs in low-carbon technology with product development support and prototype design verification, plus sourcing local manufacturers along with marketing and demonstration event support.

The CLC team is also geared up to expand low-carbon supplier networks, provide business consultancy support, organise meet-the-manufacturer-and-supplier networking events and showroom space.

Another important aspect of our work is helping companies to adopt low-carbon and renewable energy technologies on-site through demonstrator visits, showcase opportunities and installation support.

Energy Ace & Chamber Low Carbon marketing success story

As a Chorley-based manufacturer and green energy solutions provider, Energy Ace has developed a range of energy saving systems that reduce power consumption and improve energy-efficiency for industrial, commercial and domestic users.

In typical cases, the company achieves 10% to 30% electricity savings. However, it faced a marketing communication problem with clients.

The CLC team worked closely with Energy Ace on a trial project to identify and overcome a key marketing barrier – the need for remote data analytics and accurate diagnostic evidence relating to customer sites that can be used to improve energy consumption and reduce wastage through applying Voltage Optimisation and Power Factor Correction.

As CLC Consultant Ian Trow explained, defining a product/service clearly with CLC’s help means greater transparency for both customers and the company. The result is improved visibility to measure and design specific solutions for individual clients. CLC was able to “help bring this new low carbon product to market in a defined project plan underpinned by a robust marketing and promotion strategy”.

Energy Ace benefits

The key differentiator is that remote data management now allows Energy Ace engineers to target energy-efficient products correctly to specific customers with the right demand profile and right configuration for their personalised needs.

The upshot is that, to date, 14 x Beta site sales have been installed and are operating as expected on large industrial plant processes, agriculture, commercial and manufacturing sites. First estimates suggest a reduction of 131 tonnes CO2e (equivalent) in the first three months of the beta trial.

With this trial evidence, Energy Ace’s next goal is a volume launch of its product to the marketplace.

CLC Supply Chain Manager, Darren Thomas, explains the Chamber Low Carbon programme’s input. “Our role was to identify market opportunities and provide development support. We helped Energy Ace to update and clarify its business planning and strategy to better understand its market. CLC also provided training in Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) enabling technologies.”

“This led us to the need for remote diagnostics and analysis of real-time customer data to pinpoint problem bottlenecks and appropriate solutions swiftly and impressively,” he adds.

Government priorities

The Government actively encourages and funds innovation through Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, to drive productivity, economic growth, cost-reductions and the power of new UK world-class ideas.

On a national-scale, Innovate UK de-risks innovation across all economic sectors, value chains and UK regions; since 2007, it has invested some £2.5 billion in 8,500 organisations, with £1.8 billion match funding from industry, resulting in 70,000 new jobs and £18 billion added to the UK economy.

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)

BEIS also manages a competitive Energy Entrepreneurs Fund aimed at SMES and start-ups to improve energy-efficiency, power generation, heat and electrical storage.

In addition, BEIS is encouraging 11-to-16-year-old entrepreneurs to develop future technologies and apps designed to cope with challenges such as measuring air pollution, climate change and healthy ageing in a £1 million competition along the lines of the Dragon’s Den.

Meeting net-zero

To end her premiership, Prime Minister Teresa May committed the UK to be one of the world’s first counties to create a net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions economy by 2050, with transport, heating and industry as major targets. Norway and Finland also have ambitious goals.

She did so against a background of mounting UK public concern, further evidence of extreme weather events at home and globally, European pressures, and probably a future-eye on her legacy.

The Times said the target was “welcomed worldwide”, the FT added that shadow chancellor John McDonald is talking to experts about a possible 2030 deadline. But popular movement Extinction Rebellion (XR), which wants immediate action for Britain to reach net-zero in the next decade, described the 2050 delay as an avoidable “death sentence”, adding, “… people are already dying and this will only get worse with far off dates”.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) – the Government’s environmental advisor – recommended a net-zero emissions goal in May. From a business perspective, former CCC head, Adair Turner, commented, “The way I see it is that 2030 is really forcing it … The 2050 target is a sensible one, there is a logic about being able to roll over capital bases, if you take 30 years to do something you can transform at a lower cost.”

June’s Presidential visit

President Trump, who wants the US to be a major oil and gas exporter, disagrees actively with the idea of dangerous man-made global warming. His UK state visit in June highlighted the environmental contribution America could make in achieving key 2015 Paris climate agreement goals if it wasn’t planning to leave in 2020.

However, actions and attitudes could be changing, as the confirmation hearing of the US’ United Nations nominee ambassador, Kelly Craft, suggests. She said she will “be an advocate for all countries to do their part in addressing climate change”, adding that “human behaviour has contributed to the changing climate”. “Let there be no doubt: I take this matter seriously.”

April statistics show that US renewables capacity has now past coal – 21.56% compared to 21.55% for the first time – according to US Government data. An extra 1.5GW of wind capacity and 1.4GW of solar were installed in the first four months of 2019.

A University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute study found this year that 70% of Americans now believe that climate change is real, based mostly on personal experience. Elsewhere it was reported that US “peak negativity” has been reached.

The Economist noted that floods and storms are altering American attitudes to climate change. A University of Washington research report also predicts that on the current trajectory hot conditions could kill 5,800 people in New York annually, 2,500 in Los Angles and more than 2,300 in Miami.

Meanwhile, six Democrat-led US states have adopted CO2 emission elimination policies. Connecticut now expects utilities to take up to 2GW – a third of the state’s electricity needs – from renewables and could invest $70 billion in an offshore wind expansion. It previously planned for 300MW.

Oregon is on the verge of passing legislation capping GHG emissions, bringing it into line with neighbouring Washington State and linking it to giant California’s carbon trading market.

Also abroad

However, the UK does not escape with free conscience. Environmental Audit Committee MPs accuse the UK of sabotaging its climate credentials by “claiming victory on home soil” but investing billions in high-carbon power plants through “unacceptably high” of fossil-fuel subsidies to developing nations. Meanwhile, MPs on the International Development Select Committee say the Government must “help the poorest countries tackle climate change, or UK aid will be rendered useless”.

Heathrow masterplan

Closer to home, Heathrow Airport controversially hopes to construct a third runway by 2026, with terminal 2 and 5 expansion until 2050. The plan includes diverting rivers, moving roads and rerouting the M25 through a tunnel.

Local and environmental groups argued that this will mean unacceptable levels of noise, pollution and add carbon emissions from more than 700 extra planes a day.

Heathrow’s plan has Parliament’s backing and survived multiple High Court challenges. A public consultation until 13 September is the final step before a planning application is submitted. If successful, runway work will begin in early 2022.

All things come to those who wait not too patiently!

Edison’s long-term business success and persistence caused him to comment that, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”. Today’s equivalent is likely to be a combination of overalls, software and laptops!

On perseverance, he said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up”. But he had a strong commercial trait too, adding that, “Everything comes to those who hustle while they wait”.

Together, we can help to turn failures into successes.