Rolf Stein, CEO, discusses the crucial role that Government has to play in funding innovation

The UK could become a leading exporter of renewable technologies but Government support to bring pioneering innovations to market is crucial, argues Rolf Stein.

In June, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that renewable power will become the second largest contributor to power generation by 2016, second only to coal. Renewable power, it added, is also the fastest growing power generation sector, expected to increase by 40% in the next five years.

The UK, with its advanced engineering and technical expertise, is well placed to capitalise on this development and become a global leading technology exporter, provided the right levels of support are given in terms of incubatory funding and a policy framework.

The Government has a crucial role to play in supporting the development of science, innovation and advanced engineering, which are all essential drivers for growth in UK industry, particularly in the energy sector.

By providing this support, the Government can help bring pioneering technologies to market; first of all of all by providing seed funding in R&D projects to escalate development to demonstration phase and then through support to evolve technologies from demonstration to commercialisation.

The chancellor’s comprehensive spending review (CSR) in June sent out some positive signals in terms of providing support at these two decisive junctures –project demonstration and commercialisation.

Through the CSR, the Government has indicated that it would support new technologies at the key pinch points by safeguarding spending on science and investment as well as encouraging private sector funding to take new technologies through to commercial deployment. The UK’s annual £4.6bn R&D budget will be held flat until the next election and capital expenditure will double to £1.2bn.

The Government’s support for bringing technologies to commercialisation can either be in the form of direct funding or a consistent and stable policy framework to attract additional private investment. The Electricity Market Reform is designed to create a stable, credible and attractive environment for investors to fund commercialisation.

Government has also provided early stage funding via organisations such as the Technology Strategy Board, which this year will receive an additional £185m in funding, and the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI). The latter is a public-private partnership that is designed to accelerate the development of clean, affordable energy projects and targets investment at the pre-commercial deployment stage where there is traditionally a funding gap.

The ETI has launched a £2.8m project involving three different technologies for converting waste to gas for energy. Advanced Plasma Power, Broadcrown Ltd and Royal Dahlman are competing to design and develop a plant demonstrating an integrated system capable of achieving higher net efficiencies than ever before.

This competition is thought to be the first time a total system approach for an EfW gasification facility of this size has been considered in an R&D project.

Long-term, firm government support is essential and will encourage greater commitment from industry, which is still under-investing in research. The Energy Bill, which is currently going through parliament, urgently needs to deliver market confidence to bring this nascent sector to life and deliver growth for the economy.

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