The UK's sustainable energy program is a public-private partnership at work. And thus far, working well.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in what has become an annual “Cleantech Trade Mission” of Boston and New York cleantechers to the United Kingdom. Our hosts? The UK Trade & Investment team based here in the Northeast, part of the large mandate of the British Consulate here in the U.S. to continue to put planks in the bridge between our two countries, especially when it comes to cleantech and sustainable energy solutions.
Although I joined midweek as was over there for a European-based executive search we were interviewing on, the group moved from North to South, starting on Monday up in Edinburgh, Scotland, then down through Newcastle, Cambridge, and ending with two days in London.
It was a comprehensive gathering of the UK cleantech ecosystem for an exchange of ideas and “show-and-tell” around the UK of their commitment to sustainability and cleantech thought leadership. Our US band of cleantech brethren among others included investors from Rockport Capital and Kleiner Perkins.
There were three notable differences between the UK and US surrounding renewable energy & cleantech:
1) Government superstructure like the Carbon Trust (keep in mind, the UK has cap-and-trade and the U.S. doesn’t) Cap & trade drives a true dynamic market in the UK while the US version is still mired in politics on Capitol Hill. The UK succeeded in passing sweeping energy-related legislation in 2008, and the result has been a fueling of the entrepreneurial engine in Britain to come up with new technologies, sciences, and Internet-driven efficiency and monitoring solutions to help drive adoption and integration of the new laws.
2) Landfills and methane is another interesting difference again brought about by the UK’s progressive legislation. Britain is an island, and a small one at that compared to the U.S. (60+ million citizens, one fifth the size of the U.S.) There is limited real estate for landfills, and one of the big offenders from landfill is methane gas. A host of science-driven entrepreneurs have tackled what is referred to as anaerobic digesters.
3) Massive investment in offshore wind generation capacity is the third area. It was truly remarkable the detail behind Britain’s likely ascendance to global leadership in offshore wind generation. Historically, Scandinavia has held that claim. However, with Britain’s aggressive 2020 goals, they’re going to no doubt lead in offshore wind expertise and GW installed base.
Some quick numbers related to the 2020 initiative:
* Capital expenditures: £14 billion already spent in the last 5 years.
* £5.6 billion more in cap-ex planned for the next 5 years (keep in mind, this is a country with a population of ~ 62 million, about one fifth the size of the United States)
* Closure of 25% of traditional power stations (coal or other non-renewable sources)
* 25% of natural gas generated from UK sources
* Addition of 44GW of offshore wind power at distances up to 200km from shore, and in water depths down to 80m
Something like 40% of energy capacity is going to be wind, with a vast majority of that coming from offshore wind. However, UK power generators like NationalGrid recognize that there needs to be a large redundancy due to the intermittent nature of wind as a resource. NationalGrid is planning primary failover in the form of LNG and CCS capacity to power conventional generation, replacing virtually 100% of existing coal-fired plants with carbon-capture versions. The best hope to reduce this reliance on traditional energy sources is to innovate a wind power storage solution that can be commercialized between now and the completion of the 2020 UK offshore wind initiative.
Britain is pioneering a number of other innovations, including a CO2 transportation network that transports CO2 for storage (think CO2 “pipeline”), taking a chunk of the industrial complex’s CO2 emissions and capturing, storing and or repurposing it.
After all that cleantech knowledge transfer, what did the UK serve for dessert? A cocktail party with London-based cleantech entrepreneurs and investors at Taylor Wessing’s offices on the top floor wrap-around patio on a gorgeous London summer evening (below was the mis en scene).
In addition, we had an opportunity to take a sneak peek from “The View, ” an official viewing site of the 2012 Summer Olympic Park, at the top of an adjacent apartment building in East London that has impressively grown from a former area challenged by urban decay. And the London Olympics stand to be the greenest one yet from what we were told, with prolific and cool sustainable innovation even built right into the very steps of the stadiums that use spectator energy expended in climbing up and down the stadium to power an LED lighting system. One of their sustainability goals is to try to construct the Olympic venue with a net-zero carbon footprint.
Footnote: Rob Dietel, Vice Consul, who heads the cleantech vertical for the British Consulate’s UK Trade & Investment New England office, is a terrific resource along with his colleague, Kevin McCarthy, also out of the Boston office. Rebecca Lewis is Rob’s New York-region counterpart. All three are bringing a select group of UK cleantech entrepreneurs to Boston and New York this Fall. In addition, they’re planning on putting on a one-day “master class” of sorts showcasing UK offshore wind expertise here in the U.S. Invitation-only, and for those who are lucky enough to get the invite, it should prove to be great content. For more detail, Rob is at email@example.com.