Growth doesn’t have to be a dirty word: Lessons from Britain’s clean tech industry

Finding ways to combat climate change is a global priority. Yet for Britain and its trading partners, while an escalating climate crisis may be front of mind, so are fears about the economic impact caused by mitigating its worst effects. “Doesn’t tackling climate change mean less cheap and efficient power to nurture industry?” is among the common concerns.

Growth, however, does not have to be a dirty business. Britain has proven it: since 1990 the country has cut emissions by 42%, while growing GDP by two thirds. This means that Britain has reduced emissions faster than any other G7 nation, while leading G7 national income growth.

The skills Britain has learned whilst doing this have fuelled a rise in pioneering companies that are putting their expertise to work both domestically and overseas

In 2016, 47% of British electricity came from low carbon sources, around double the level in 2010, and Britain now has the largest installed offshore wind capacity in the world.

In May 2019 the UK completed a record-breaking run of 20 days without requiring any electricity generated by using coal.

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Average household energy consumption has fallen by 17% since 1990, automotive engine technology has helped drive down emissions per kilometre driven by up to 16% and England also recycles nearly four times more than it did in 2000. Transitioning to clean growth works.

Clean Growth: The Benefits for Britain – and for You

The skills Britain has learned whilst doing this have fuelled a rise in pioneering companies that are putting their expertise to work both domestically and overseas. Clean growth is driving a new, technologically innovative, high growth and high value ‘low carbon’ sector of the UK economy.

Not only is Britain rapidly decarbonising parts of the domestic economy, but thanks to world leading expertise in technologies such as offshore wind, power electronics for low carbon vehicles and electric motors, and global leadership in green finance, it is successfully exporting goods and services around the world; a win-win for people, planet – and profit.

Clean growth is, in short, a national priority and at the heart of the UK’s Industrial Strategy.

The aim is multifaceted: to increase productivity, create good jobs and businesses and help protect the climate and environment upon which both this and future generations depend. The lessons learned, skills gained and industrial capacity built as a result are substantial – and others are increasingly turning to the UK to tap this clean growth expertise and take lessons home.

Clean Growth: What Britain is Doing

Britain’s Climate Change Act has been immensely successful, leading to five carbon budgets that have paved the way for UK emissions to continue to fall and helped cement the UK’s position as an international leader on climate action. Right now, clean growth focusses on multiple sectors.

These include: power, buildings, industry, transport, agriculture and land use, waste and fluorinated gases, or F-gases. In each of these highly specialised industrial actors have emerged, as the following examples illustrate.

Clean Growth Examples from Industry

In power, for example, Manchester-based Upside Energy Upside Energy uses algorithms and artificial intelligence to create a virtual power plant which can help meet the peak demands on the grid by aggregating unused energy from solar panels, electric vehicles, and backup power supplies. The technology allows homes, factories and small businesses to earn money by reducing their energy consumption during times of peak demand.

When it comes to waste and green growth, fellow British startup Mimica starts from an elegantly simple position: one of tackling food waste, which others often ends up in landfill, producing the potent greenhouse gas methane. The company creates freshness labels containing a gelatine-based gel that deteriorates at the same rate as the perishable products that it’s attached to. When the food or pharmaceutical is no longer safe to eat, the label develops bumps warning consumers not to use it. It’s a simple idea – but also one that can help massively reduce food waste.

MacRebur uses waste plastics to build more durable roads that boost sustainability by using up the millions of tons of plastics sitting in landfill sites

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In terms of clean growth in the buildings sector, British energy efficiency startup Demand Logic meanwhile has developed a data analytics system that is installed in commercial buildings to assess the performance of boilers, chillers, fans and other systems. This allows building managers to review the insights in an app that recommends how they can cut bills, reduce carbon footprints, and create more comfortable working environments.

This is hugely important: clean growth can’t be secured without energy efficient buildings.

Why? As the United Nations notes, the global buildings sector is growing at unprecedented rates, and it will continue to do so. Over the next 40 years, the world is expected to build 230 billion square metres in new construction – adding the equivalent of Paris to the planet every single week.

As the UN puts it: “This rapid growth is not without consequences. While buildings sector energy intensity has improved in recent years, this has not been enough to offset rising energy demand. Buildings-related CO2 emissions have continued to rise by around 1% per year since 2010, and more than four million deaths each year are attributable to illness from household air pollution. Fortunately, many opportunities exist to deploy energy-efficient and low-carbon solutions for buildings and construction. [These need] strategic policies and market incentives that change the pace and scale of actions in the global buildings market.”

Other companies in the country are looking not just at buildings but the roads that run by them: MacRebur, for example, uses waste plastics to build more durable roads that boost sustainability by using up the millions of tons of plastics sitting in landfills sites, while reducing production and maintenance costs by increasing the lifespan of roads. The Scottish startup was founded in 2016 by engineer Toby McCartney, who experimented with hundreds of blends of polymers to find a formula that mixed with regular asphalt to create a longer-lasting road.

With over £2.5 billion being invested by the government to support low carbon innovation from 2015 to 2021 and the National Productivity Investment Fund providing an additional £4.7 billion, with an extra £2 billion a year by 2020 to 2021, the clean growth story is set to continue – and hopefully inspire partners around the world, with whom our business are keen to share skills and lessons learned. Britain, meanwhile, is also working collaboratively as a core member of ‘Mission Innovation’, a group of leading countries which aims to drive forward clean growth on a global scale.

Why UK Technology

Pioneering, innovative and creative. Britain has everything global technology businesses need to grow. The UK’s tech success in areas ranging from artificial intelligence to low-Earth-orbit satellites is ably supported by forward-leaning regulators, an accommodating climate for innovation, highly liquid funding markets and globally renowned R&D hubs.