So that was an intense week! What a privilege to represent our country as one of the most promising Greentech/Cleantech businesses, and, what company we were in. As a Brit you must tread a little carefully in the home of the original Tea Party, the Boston massacre and the Declaration of Independence.
The visit was a collaboration between the UK research and innovation arm of BEIS (Business energy and industrial strategy) innovate UK, FCO and Coventry University. Thank you to all who worked so hard to put the trip together. At times herding cats would have been easier! But we got there, and I think we made an impression.
Well for a start the US energy market is a lot different from ours although many of the challenges in Massachusetts (Ma) are common to us. Big picture…we all rely on fossil fuels to keep the lights on and (in Boston) the rooms cool. In Ma the average temperature in January is -5 and in summer around 25. The housing stock is old and leaky, the energy grid systems are old and equally leaky. I heard an estimate of 50% losses in gas around the network!
The Mayor of Boston recently set a challenge to decarbonise city energy systems entirely by 2050. Does anyone know how to do that? Well, frankly, no, but the people at the Boston University Institute of Sustainability were brave enough to start research on how it might be possible and they have published initial findings in document (http://www.bu.edu/ise/files/2017/11/Roadmap-for-Carbon-Free-Boston.pdf) that will eventually set out the scale of challenge and actions that need to be taken. That’s a pretty big deal in a country that withdrew from the Paris Accord and relies quite a lot on fracked gas and vast quantities of oil.
OK but Boston is also home to MIT, Harvard, North Eastern University, Boston University, U Mass Lowell and Greentown Labs (a leading global incubator for the Greentech/Cleantech sector). We visited them all and shared ideas and we should be proud of what we have here in the UK. Collaboration is going to be best in this sector - although its pretty clear private money doesn’t flow naturally into energy. Energy transition is long term, costs billions and offers lower returns than other sectors but by collaborating and sharing ideas we can all move quicker. Maybe we need a Greentown Labs in the UK?
Energy is complex and political. There are big technical scientific challenges ahead that must be solved before we can live at current levels of consumption and be carbon free. We don’t have all the solutions, but we have a rough idea which is a good start. Academics working in this field are brilliant and supported by great institutions. If politicians can be brave enough to lead, then maybe more money will flow into the sector. In the meantime, climate change happens, and the financial and human costs rise.
Did the Americans know how to get to the moon in 1962 when John F Kennedy made his famous moon speech at the Rice stadium? No. But they did it. Will Boston be carbon free in 2050? Don’t bet against it. I’m also confident that the bridges we built last week will come to collaboration and business flowing. At Energeo we are often the start point in the journey and I’m quietly confident that we will be returning to the North Eastern USA to play a small part in the next revolution to start there.