Low Carbon Champions: Driving forward a Green Revolution
Investment in decarbonisation and clean growth is continuing to rise with reports suggesting it will create up to 200,000 green jobs across the North and Midlands, providing a major boost to the regional economies.
In the latest webinar from TheBusinessDesk.com in partnership with both the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund (NPIF) and the Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF) a panel of experts considered the challenges facing businesses and the support is available to help the transition to a low carbon economy (a full video of the session is available here or below).
The session started with a discussion of the opportunities available to businesses to play a leading role in the low-carbon economy.
Danny Jones, director of the Off Grid Energy based in Rugby explained: “We’ve seen a huge growth in potential for what we do – manufacturing small scale energy storage systems.”
He went on to discuss how the challenges of the last couple of years including the pandemic have “accelerated or catapulted” interest in the firm’s technology.
We’ve been doing what we do for a very long time”, Jones continued, “So we’re often referred to as having had a 10 year overnight success. [But] we’ve been waiting for the time to be right [and] for what we do to become what everybody wants. And that’s exactly what’s happened.”
But it’s not just about going it alone the director explained but about working together across the region, noting that being based in the Midlands, a region synonymous with the automotive industry they are looking at ways to support the rise of electric vehicles.
“We’ve got some fantastic alignment with some well-known businesses in the Midlands in how we’re repurposing electric vehicle batteries, and reusing those to go into new applications that drive down carbon emissions in temporary power, but also support grid infrastructure for the rollout of electric vehicles.”
Dr Helen Turner, director of Midlands Innovation picked up on the topic of collaboration discussing the role of the Midlands eight universities on a joint £180m project called the Energy Research Accelerator.
She explained: “Through capital investment [the accelerator] has created 23 new novel energy research and development facilities across the region.”
As a result of this she sees real opportunities in the Midlands to shape the future of clean energy that can both boost the local economy but also support export growth – as all countries are looking to transform their energy sectors.
Finally she highlighted the role of the logistics industry which accounts for 40% of the region’s GVA and noted that decarbonising this sector offers both huge challenges but also massive opportunities.
Moving North, Simon Pringle, board member and chair of green economy panel and the Leeds City Region LEP explained how a positive to come out of the challenges of 2020 was “the demonstration that we change business models and we can change them really quickly”.
Pringle said: “We’ve pivoted lots of businesses over the last 16 months, so the whole piece about a reticence in terms of changing business models to address a low/zero carbon future has dissipated somewhat.”
Looking at what this openness to change means he highlighted “The North’s got a huge opportunity, because we’ve got an amazing asset base”. However, he also noted that important decisions need to be made about “land use” and what that means for the agricultural and rural economies and our approach to housing and retrofitting housing stock.
Ken Cooper MD of venture solutions at the British Business Bank which runs both NPIF and MEIF followed on from Pringle’s point on retrofitting housing stock to explain that the regional funds have a role and are playing a role in not only supporting innovative new ideas but also in helping with the decarbonisation of industries.
“Something like £50m of investment has gone in across the North and the Midlands to things that are focused on low carbon.”
But Cooper highlights it’s not all about coming up within something “genuinely innovative or a new product” but in some cases the funding has supported reducing a firm’s power usage.
He added that the range of products which includes small loans that can “perhaps support a bit of a pivot” through to larger equity investments that may support innovation or larger projects.
His advice ultimately was to engage with the funds and start the shift towards sustainability as “it’s clear where the market is heading”, highlighting that NPIF and MEIF are fantastic tools for businesses as they’re sector agnostic and therefore can support the decarbonisation of UK plc not just one specific industry.
Mark Buchanan, CEO of Extreme Low Energy picked up of Cooper’s point about it being the way the market was going stating: “There was a green shift already underway before the pandemic and despite the uncertainty through the pandemic it’s carried on.”
He noted as result of Covid and people being at home more there’s been a “rise in demand for self-sufficiency”. Now rather than renewable energy being the nice to have of three or four years ago he feels now it’s high on the agenda with “customers actually demanding [sustainability] in their solutions”.
It’s clear that there are opportunities for the North and the Midlands to lead this green agenda from developing the skills and solutions of tomorrow to utilising the new focus to address other challenges. Buchanan summed it up, noting that tackling decarbonisation can do more than support the climate but it can deliver economic growth and tackle wider issues. He used the example of delivering low energy and low carbon homes also starts to tackle the issues around fuel poverty.
You can find out more about the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund or Midlands Engine Investment Fund at npif.co.uk or meif.co.uk.
Or to watch the whole session again below.