Can the UK Restore its Reputation in Clean Tech?

Posted on 17 October 2023

​Baron Deben, previous environment secretary for the Major government 1990s wrote an open letter to Rishi Sunak summarising a report submitted by the Climate Change Committee. In it, he stated that the government’s “failure to act decisively in response to the energy crisis and build on the success of hosting COP26 means that the UK has lost its clear global climate leadership. Game-changing interventions from the US and Europe, which will turbocharge the growth of renewables, are leaving the UK behind.”

With rollback announcements, extended levies when other countries have let them expire, oil licences granted, and the delay in the UKs decision-making on climate change is one which can stop the UK from being one to lead the way and could end up being left behind.

The Symbiotic relationship between leadership and Cleantech 

While some of the messaging out to the world could be seen as the UK as uncommitted, almost to the point of uninterested, there is still hope for the UK to be considered a global leader in cleantech.

The UK has a thriving innovation scene and remains one of the most important cleantech markets in the world. According to Tech Nation the UK was second only to the US for hosting climate tech start-ups and scale-ups last year. Tech Nation estimated there were more than 5200 climate tech pioneers in the UK.

But being an initiation or innovation in the early stages is only part of the story. More needs to be done to back great innovation in the UK all the way through from R&D through to global success.

The UK has already missed some opportunities to establish itself in clean tech in some areas, for example, the manufacturing of large solar panels or wind turbines, however, there are opportunities for the UK to be world leader in “enabling solutions”. While these solutions may not be commoditised in the same way as solar panels, they are likely to add more value over time. 

Peter Bance, founder and CEO of cleantech firm Origami Energy says, “Exciting areas include battery management systems, data science and analytics, and green trading. The solutions that will thrive and see the global stage will be sensitive and adaptable to changes in technology; modular and customisable to the needs of customers; and resilient to the security risks of an increasingly digitalised energy system.”

Public-Private Sector Support for Cleantech

 The public-private partnerships are key to the future of cleantech in the UK. Superhubs have shown the level of success the UK can have when these partnerships work together. The Oxford SuperHub is Europe's largest charging hub for electric vehicles. This is a demonstration of the public and private sector ambition to lead the way and shows why it is critical for these collaborations are important.

While these collaborations are important they will not be able to forge the UK as cleantech leaders alone. The UK still does not have an equivalent to the US Inflation Reduction Act. This legislation has stimulated £222bn in new clean tech investments since the legislation passed. As a result, it has created over 170,000 new clean tech jobs in the US so far.

More needs to be done from the government to help stimulate the clean tech industry growth which is possible within the UK. Cleantech is an opportunity to build a sustainable economy, and the UK is in competition with the rest of the world over it. 

Creating more supportive legislation, to help with regulation, public funding to support and invest in initiatives as well as long-term policies which help grow and protect the UK cleantech economy.

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