The Energy Research Accelerator recently held a roundtable for ministers, civic leaders and industrialists to answer the question of how innovation at a regional level can support national climate goals.
The event, titled ‘Accelerating to COP26’ was chaired by Professor Sir David Eastwood, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, and Professor Martin Freer, Director of the Energy Research Accelerator. It included presentations by Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands; Lord Robin Teverson, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee Chair; Darren Jones MP, Chair of the BEIS Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee; and Dr Nina Skorupska, CEO of the Association of Renewable Energy and Clean Technology.
The speakers discussed the various initiatives taking place in the Midlands. Darren Jones, Chair of the BEIS Select Committee commented on the good work that the ERA has done to highlight regional strengths and impact, and believes that ERA has a track record in showing how regional innovation can be delivered.
West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street mentioned the need for government to invest in the strengths of each region in order to achieve its net-zero goals and said that the Midlands had particular strengths in battery technologies and green transport, including all-electric business, e-bikes and e-scooters. Nina Skorupska of the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology, talked about how many of the renewable energy SMEs of 20 years ago are now major businesses in the UK, and added that ‘the technologies of today can be delivering today’ with the right market, infrastructure, regulatory environment and policy support. Finally, Lord Robin Teverson discussed the need for energy efficiency, and how retrofit will be one of the biggest challenges which needs to be delivered on a regional level.
Participants involved in the roundtable made a number of important points, including Mike Lewis, CEO of E.ON who said that it is important for us to ‘put our foot to the floor’ on activities that we know will be beneficial such as energy efficiency, new building standards, off-grid heat pumps, smart meter roll out etc. Alan Whitehead MP, Shadow Energy Minister for Labour commented that the UK has in place the technologies and techniques to get to net-zero, and that ERA is playing a key role in demonstrating how research can be applied into real-world situations.
Aaron Bell, MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme added that the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency offered the opportunity to fund experimental and innovative ideas that may not attract funding from traditional sources. Helen Boyle of Cadent raised the importance of consumers and stakeholder behaviour in achieving the net-zero ambition. The final comment was from Ben Watt of Engie who reflected on the progressive and leading role of the region and that government had a key role to play in setting the structure and frameworks for regional energy innovation zones, creating investible opportunities.
Professor Martin Freer commented: “The Midlands needs local coordination and partnership and the net-zero conversation needs to roll-on. The region should think about what it wants to deliver and what power it needs from central government, and we have to work together to understand what the Midlands needs to do in order to deliver net-zero.”
Professor Sir David Eastwood concluded: “It’s about harnessing coordination and capability, and it’s about taking action. We have to think not only about what we need to do on the supply side but also on the demand side, as decarbonising demand is an important contributor to the solutions we are looking for. I hope that the conversation continues and that by working together we can make a difference to what we do both regionally and nationally.”
Photo shows: Darren Jones MP. Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee