Low carbon innovation - how a collaborative approach is critical to closing the UK's funding gap

Innovation has traditionally played an important role in the global economy, delivering solutions that meet constantly evolving requirements and market needs.  Despite nuanced differences between invention – coming up with something new – and improvement – doing the same thing better – innovation has the power to make a real, impactful change in society.  More often than not, innovation is key to unlocking market forces required to create wealth, growth, and jobs.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with low carbon technologies.  Globally we are facing some significant hurdles to mitigating the effects of climate change and the transition to a sustainable, low carbon economy will transform the way we live and work.  Innovation in nascent low carbon technology families has the potential to not only ensure that we enable this transition but do so in such a way as to open up new market opportunities for companies to share in the success.

Government has an important role in encouraging this innovation.  In the UK it is co-ordinated by the Low Carbon Innovation Co-ordination Group (LCICG), an assembly of the major organisations supporting low carbon innovation. The group aims to maximise the impact of UK public funding for low carbon technology in order to:

  • Deliver affordable, secure, low carbon energy for the UK
  • Deliver UK economic growth
  • Develop the UK’s capabilities, knowledge and skills

In the recently released strategic framework Coordinating Low Carbon Technology Innovation Support, for which the Carbon Trust was a key contributor, the LCICG lays out their vision for low carbon innovation in the UK, including their successes to date, their planned approach to collaboration and the prioritisation of future innovation support programmes.  By drawing on evidence from 11 low carbon technology families, it presents a shared assessment of the key innovation needs requiring public support over the remainder of the decade.  Importantly, it highlights an expected funding gap of some £3bn between these needs and what has been spent over the past 5 years.

In these challenging and uncertain economic times, this gap presents some tough choices.  Fortunately insights from the stakeholder engagement process that formed a crucial part of the report’s evidence base leaves us optimistic that these challenges can be successfully overcome. 

Governments all over the world are stretched in their resources and must be able to deliver value-for-money with the limited funds at their disposal.  This emphasises the importance of working in collaboration with the private sector to help finance the commercialisation of low carbon technologies.  Across all technology areas, industry is eager to engage in dialogue – or even partnership – with government in order to drive growth and development.  The Carbon Trust has pioneered this approach through initiatives such as the Offshore Wind Accelerator, the Industrial Energy Efficiency Accelerator, our partnership with GE, and the forthcoming Marine Farm Accelerator which work in cooperation with leading technology developers and the public sector to leverage funding and push collaborative innovation.  From this hands on involvement we can see that technology developers, users, and funders are keen to share their experience with the aim of increasing available funding, reducing risks, and sharing in the success of delivering low carbon solutions to the market.

The ability to provide targeted interventions, leveraging industry strengths and resources through close collaboration, is key to unlocking the investment required to promote innovation, close the funding gap, and reap the benefits of a sustainable, low carbon economy.

See more on the LCICG's Strategic Framework.