With increased conversation surrounding climate change and the associated policies and risks, businesses are required to be at the forefront of sustainable innovation in order to survive. This need for innovation and new technologies drives Imperial’s pioneering researchers, students and alumni who continue to create ingenious solutions to these global issues. Earlier this year a report commissioned by Shell Springboard suggested that the UK is not fully exploiting the growth potential of the rapidly expanding low-carbon sectors.
The research team, led by Professor Erkko Autio of the Business School’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Department, published the report titled ‘Engineering growth – enabling world-class entrepreneurship in the lowcarbon economy’. The findings state that, in the green energy industry, Britain is producing double the number of university spin-outs as the United States relative to GDP, but they raise less than half the equity raised by their American counterparts.
In order to successfully transition to a truly low-carbon economy, innovation is needed across all areas of industry, society and economic life. This research shows that we not only need new technologies, but also new business models and new entrepreneurial attitudes.
Evidently there is a gap in the UK market for new technology and pioneering ideas that will change the way we understand renewable energy and power usage. This creates an exciting opportunity for students and academia to bring their developed ideas to market and make a real impact. Professor Autio said: “In order to successfully transition to a truly low-carbon economy, innovation is needed across all areas of industry, society and economic life. This research shows that we not only need new technologies, but also new business models and new entrepreneurial attitudes. A new breed of entrepreneurs will be spearheading such innovation, from university spin outs to individual entrepreneurs, and we must do everything we can to ensure their scale-up performance is the best it can be.”
Imperial’s new MSc Climate Change, Management & Finance programme helps to support this challenge. It has been designed as a joint-venture between Imperial College Business School and the Grantham Institute to equip students with the interdisciplinary skills required in business on issues relating to climate change and sustainability.
Programme Director Dr Mirabelle Muûls said: “The innovative new programme for 2016 educates business leaders of tomorrow by combining a strong and quantitatively based understanding of business and finance as well as climate change and sustainability.”
The course was created with input from key corporates and policy makers who indicated there was a lack of graduates with such skills. The programme will explore the role of innovation and technology in addressing climate change and provide insights into the scientific and political concerns that underpin international agreements on carbon reduction targets. Graduates of the programme will have the skills that businesses need to manage climate change-related challenges and also capitalise on the opportunities that arise from moving to a low-carbon economy.
Fostering a culture of analytical thinking and creative solutions is promoted across the wider College. In July, an interesting array of innovative prototypes were placed on display in the College’s main entrance. The devices were developed by students as part of the Innovation Design Engineering (IDE) and Global Innovation Design (GID) programmes – run jointly by Imperial’s Dyson School of Design Engineering and the Royal College of Art. Designs included a sonar inspired head set a smart exercise suit, and Charlotte Slingsby’s invention, Moya Power. Moya Power was inspired by Slingsby’s native South Africa, where power-cuts are a frequent occurrence.
Moya Power meets the challenge of developing a new way of harnessing energy that does not require expensive land or infrastructure. Charlotte’s invention uses a number of finger-like filaments which are moved by passing currents of air with the movement harnessed to generate electricity. The end result is a low cost flexible material that can wrap around buildings, coat windows, line bridges or be hidden in structures unlocking their potential as energy generation sites. Such inventive solutions to complex problems exemplify Imperial’s innovative and entrepreneurial spirit.
We obviously need new things, but Innovation doesn’t have to be new,” says Dr Ritsuko Ozaki, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “It can be a new combination of existing ideas.
Innovation should also be considered to come from the re-thinking of existing research and technology. “We obviously need new things, but Innovation doesn’t have to be new,” says Dr Ritsuko Ozaki, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “It can be a new combination of existing ideas.”
Dr Ozaki’s recent work suggests there is often a gap between an engineer and the end user. Common sustainability technologies are often developed without the consideration of the everyday user who has the ability to make a significant change to the environmental and carbon goals.
“When engineers see a problem, they come up with a fantastic engineering solution 24 Imperial Business 25 and they tend to think it solves the problem. But there are human beings between their solution and the problem,” says Dr Ozaki, who also noted that engineers sometimes over anticipate the end user’s ability to use new and innovative technologies.
In addition to adaptive technologies, come adaptive business ventures. Whilst studying at Imperial College Business School, Karl Harder came up with the idea for Abundance, an investment company that enables communities and individuals to invest directly in renewable energy projects across the UK and share in the benefits. The company is now in its third year, and has a strong investment community of nearly 2000. “We started with a simple idea – to link up communities and individuals with Renewable Energy Projects and make it possible for everyone to share in the benefits of clean energy production,” says Karl. “Our investors don’t just get an income from their investment. They are contributing to a better environment for future generations, so we can all breathe air that’s a little cleaner and look forward to a more sustainable future.” Business models that transform the way funding is achieved for renewable energy are helping to push the agenda of clean energy beyond the timescales of government policy.
Re-thinking and challenging policy is also important in helping to ensure the paradigms of sustainable business practices are truly adaptable to our changing environment. Professor Richard Green, Head of the Management Department at the Business School, has been working on a number of policy issues relating to the electricity industry, including the best way to integrate electricity storage into the market and create a system of regulatory rules. His latest project is part of the UK Energy Research Centre, a network headquartered at Imperial. Working with Dr Iain Staffell, from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, Professor Green will be modelling the interactions of the UK with the rest of the European energy system. His research suggests that building more (undersea) transmission lines to the rest of Europe will help to deal with fluctuations in the output of wind and solar generators.
“Renewable energy is central to the decarbonisation of Europe’s economy,” said Dr Staffell. “However, as output of present electricity systems are unpredictable, uncontrollable and resource constrained, there are many challenges. So, intelligent economic solutions are needed to enable wind and solar resources to be exploited more efficiently and at lower cost”.
A paper previously published by Professor Green and Dr Staffell investigating wind farm longevity is already being used in the UK government’s calculations. Following debate about whether wind turbines have a more limited shelf-life than other technologies, their research found that UK’s earliest turbines, built in the 1990s, are still producing three-quarters of their original output after 19 years of operation, nearly twice the amount previously claimed, and should operate effectively up to 25 years. This is comparable to the performance of gas turbines used in power stations.
In addition to the innovative solutions currently being developed by the brilliant minds at Imperial, developments in the realm of climate change management continue to provide a wealth of opportunity for entrepreneurial minds to leverage. Promoting entrepreneurial spirit and innovation will further Imperial’s legacy of helping to futureproof both business and the global economy against the impacts of climate change and other issues.