“An Industrial Strategy that does not fully embrace the need for new energy technologies will diminish the productivity and competitiveness of UK business”

In the latest article in our series on Britain’s Industrial Strategy, published in partnership with the University of Birmingham, Professor Ian Thomson (Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business) and Marc Stone (Energy Systems Catapult) write for the Birmingham Business Blog:

See also What is the UK’s Industrial Strategy?
Britain’s Industrial Strategy: Lessons from the Food Industry
Taking Britain’s Industrial Strategy Into Space
An Education-Based Industrial Strategy for Britain

Energy, and its clean and sustainable use, is critical to UK business. Avoiding ineffective and wasteful use is something all businesses should be concerned with.

Accountable implementation of new energy systems and technologies can create many business advantages- lower costs, improved employee satisfaction, new market opportunities, synergistic partnerships with other responsible businesses, an active commitment to social responsibility, futureproofing from future fossil fuel price shocks, and the creation of energy resilient organisations. Any change can be perceived as difficult, but can be made easier if there is clear vision, practical alternatives, support and incentives. There is a strong case for government investment in new energy solutions for clean growth, particularly when we all share in the benefits from sustainable energy systems and technologies.

Energy is embedded within all that we do. It creates value for business, allows personal mobility, shapes and maintains communities, facilitates public service provision, and enhances our quality of life. However, energy has a dark side. The social, economic, and environmental costs of energy consumption are threatening our future and inhibiting the attainment of UN Global Goals. There is a growing consensus that our use and abuse of energy must change. Resolving runaway climate change predictions and encouraging clean growth for all is the most urgent challenge for our generation. The UK government has a target to cut carbon emissions by 80% in a growing economy. To achieve this target, it will need substantial co-ordinated effort from all.

Searching for Solutions

The UK has vehicles already in place to respond to the barriers to innovation in the energy sector. The Energy Systems Catapult, for example, is establishing a unique whole systems approach and is leading from a consumer-centric innovation model, rather than an exclusive supply approach to innovation. Through extensive collaboration, the Catapult is helping businesses understand future business models that will service future consumer needs. Examples include the Future Power Systems Architecture program and consumer insights into domestic heat and comfort.

To meet the UK’s carbon emission targets will require a dramatic escalation in levels of cleaner, affordable and less wasteful energy technologies. Supporting organizations like the Energy Systems Catapult to transform how we understand and use energy to decarbonize the UK’s energy system, come 2050, is key to the successful development of UK’s Industrial Strategy.

However, we do not have all the answers to the complex challenges of creating a global, futureproof, sustainable energy system. Support is needed to mobilize game-changing scientific discoveries lurking in laboratories into economically viable, practical propositions. This mobilization will require interdisciplinary research, enhanced funding, collaboration with industry, and effective knowledge exchange partnerships.

Ground-breaking solutions to achieve clean growth is a force for good for all. The Birmingham Energy Institute embraces this challenge. Its mission is to define the energy landscape of the future and they are working on innovative programs to develop clean cold energy storage, fuel cells, and hydrogen, and rethinking transportation, bioenergy, and the thermal energy accelerator. Investing in successful energy research centers must form a leading part of the UK’s Industrial Strategy.

The work of the Energy Systems Catapult and Birmingham Energy Institute demonstrates that the energy revolution will not be solved only by science or engineers. It is also a social, economic, and business problem. At the Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business, we define responsible businesses as creating value without exploiting others or the planet, whilst avoiding inequitable distribution of risks, hazards, benefits and costs. Research suggests that too many are trapped in carbon-constrained energy systems that contribute to climate change risks for current and future generations. We argue that there is a compelling case for greater investment for a systemic solution to these issues.

An Industrial Strategy that does not fully embrace the need for new energy technologies will diminish the productivity and competitiveness of UK business, lead to lost opportunities for social and environmental improvement, and obstruct the UK’s contribution to UN Global Goals. The responsible funding and implementation of new energy systems and technologies has the potential to create real value and a resilient energy future, rather than continuing on a destructive trajectory.