April 6th, 2011

Geeks and Geysers: How to Maneuver Around UK Clean Energy Policy

CleanTech Events -

Earlier this month I attended some industry events including the first Cleantech Cluster event outside London (in Bristol); the Economist Sustainable Business Summit; the Future of Utilities conference and a Lord Stern lecture among others. I’d like to give you a brief snapshot of some of the big picture discussions as well as how future UK cleantech prospects were presented at these events.

From Policy and Financing to Engagement and Collaboration

Many of the event speeches  were directed towards recent and imminent policy developments such as the Renewable Heat Incentive, Green Deal, Green Investment Bank, Electricity Market Reform, as well as outspoken, though in my opinion over stated, ‘failure’ of the Feed-in Tariff. Almost all debates made reference to how these policy developments are influencing the financing of innovations and organisational strategy. This really elucidated the fundamental current state of the cleantech industry’s reliance on politics and ensuing effect on the fragility of financing. As politicians are in office for bouts of up to 5 years whereas a typical investment lasts for 5, 10, 15, 20+ years, stakeholders are becoming increasingly frustrated with continual moving goal posts. To the extent that one investor stated to a room full of expectant entrepreneurs ‘early stage [cleantech] funding in the UK is in tatters due to a disincentivised VC community’. I think he most likely ruined their evenings but this is an understandable yet worrying sign.

There was also a surprising amount of discussion on consumer engagement and collaborations / partnerships. Something I was not expecting but theses issues are vital for transferring knowledge, within the industry but more importantly to those external to it, i.e. the public. Of the people I met at these events Siemens (the world’s largest clean tech investors) were championing their role in engaging with the industry very effectively and were also working on many successful partnerships, providing a model others should follow.

As Ramon Arratia (Interface Flora) impassionately referred to in his key note speech, the cleantech industry needs both Geeks (for knowledge) and Geysers (for marketing). Of all the talks, this was one that really stuck in my head because of its simplicity. I think referring to the ‘Geeks and Geysers of cleantech’ – or indeed the Good Guys and the Bad Guys – did wonders to simplify the current complexity of issues in UK cleantech.

Molding the Future

Apart from widespread public denouncement of nuclear energy on the back of the Japanese crisis, prospects for UK cleantech looked as gloomy as they did optimistic. There were outspoken calls for greater certainty in energy policy so as to renew financial confidence and a desire to develop better consumer engagement strategies to facilitate a shift in public opinion.

The last point I’d like to make is one that Lord Stern described in some detail. We are moving from a period of green/clean/sustainable/alternative development towards a new industrial revolution, or as John Elkington (SustainAbility) outlined, we are entering an 80 year phenomena; a cultural paradigm shift towards clean energy –food for thought!

Let me know your thoughts as my next blog(s) will follow up on some more specific aspects of the UK cleantech scene.


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George Phillips

About George Phillips

George is a cleantech analyst and distributed energy campaigner. George launched the consulting venture IndREcon in 2010, reviewing cleantech innovation business plans before joining Orion Innovations, a London based specialist strategy consultancy firm focusing on innovations in emergent sectors, primarily Smartclean industries. George is originally from London, but lived in North America and Europe for almost 10 years. He is currently developing GLD in London UK. @gphillipsUK @GLD_UK *Views expressed are my own *