March 24th, 2011

Towards a Greener Britain: Is There a Winning Technology?

Entrepreneurship -

A few weeks ago, I attended an Economist debate between a diverse spectrum of speakers including, Shell, Academics, and Greenpeace to name a few. Despite their differences there as one point that gathered a consensus. There is not going to be one winning technology, but instead a mosaic of technologies.

The general theme was that green technology divides into roughly two aspects, energy and transport. Arguments were made for and against all the usual suspects within these categories, and rather than try and make the case for and against the many different combinations of technologies – I am going to pick out a few questions that were answered and other points of interest.

Q. What contribution is wind energy going to make in the U.K.?

A. Although the wind sector has been widely heralded, the general consensus was that growth after 2030 might not keep pace. It was also advocated that wind must be pursued fully, changing strict U.K. planning laws to allow onshore to be developed faster.

How to encourage the right technologies – It was suggested that the best way is to let the market decide the clean technologies. It was also proposed that the fair market enabling carbon price won’t be seen until 2030, but it will be too late by this point. If the market theory that government cannot choose the right technologies to be supported then how can we expect the best technologies to appear? It made me think of a book I read 18 months ago Structuring an Energy Technology Revolution a must read for energy policy maker, while based on the US it is applicable and critical for that every country takes note.

Exportation of technologies – An example was made about a U.K. electric van maker that has just gone insolvent, and that government procurement policies should be more supportive to U.K. firms similar to other European countries. Another speaker replied that we should just buy them (the Vans) from Renault. The original speaker made a retort that resonates with me, if a country imports all its green technologies it is missing out on a huge opportunity to develop skills and be able to export technologies around the world.

It is very well saying that green jobs will be created, the majority seems to me will be installers of technologies, a huge opportunity. I feel a much greater benefit will be garnered through the development of technologies and creation of businesses that can export technologies to other countries.

This in itself raises another issue discussed, if a technology is not hugely applicable to the U.K. it can be a lot harder for the government to support said technology. What technologies therefore are we going to be able to export around the world, one of our biggest areas of investment wind? Doubtful considering there isn’t a major British manufacturer and the only factory was closed down in 2009 .

Theoretical based Regulations – The proposition that regulations do not always present the best cost returns, was exemplified through green build standards based on theoretical savings are not resulting in predicted results. Only through long term trials will the best combination be known in particular for retrofitting buildings. See world’s first energy test house in Salford U.K. (Behind the scenes and Unveiling)

Carrots and Sticks – An excellent point was raised in to the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of taxes for encouraging the use clean technologies. The example suggested was the lesser effect of tax on petrol, but the greater affect that tax banding and exemption from congestion charges has on the choice of cars even though cost of either of these is usually only a fraction of the cost of the cars that are subject to the high charges. Understanding the best mechanisms and the psychology behind them could be huge weapon in encouraging more to use more sustainable technologies.

Listening to the arguments of the fascinating speakers raised a number of points for thought alas as it was a debate there were no definitive answers only arguments. As everyone that is involved in the industry knows, if this was a simple question with an easy answer then the challenge we face would be far smaller. In any area that still has so many nascent technologies, choosing the winners is not easy and. It just happens that in this industry the stakes are a great deal higher and everyone has a mutual interest in getting answers to the questions posed in this debate right, before it is too late.

I would love to hear your thoughts and retorts any of the points I have raised.

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About James Byrne

James, 24 from Cheshire in the UK, completed an MSc in International Technology Management at The University of Warwick in October 2011. During the last year undertook research into creativity in the Front End of Innovation for disruptive cleantech. James is currently working on several projects which include driving GLD forward in the UK. Further since graduating he has lectured on disruptive business model innovation at UoW. Moreover he is looking for opportunities in a technology and innovation management related role. James is contactable at

  • Mark Bradbury

    James, Like what you’re doing here and definately at Link with the East London Green Enterprise District. The mosiac approach is common to all kinds of tech not just clean, the challemge is to create a common planform all con plug into – a ‘windows’ if you like. Living PlanIT are doing good work in this regard, check them out if you haven’t already, it all comes back to IT in the end, the tech is great it’s how you connect it that makes it work.

  • Mark Bradbury

    Crap spelling, god I hate my Blackberry – not all tech is good!!!