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Cleantech conference: Private and public sectors urged to collaborate for progress

PUBLISHED: 17:16 03 September 2018 | UPDATED: 17:16 03 September 2018

Speakers at the Driving Clean Growth conference at the University of East Anglia's Enterprise Centre. (L-R) James Dunning, chief executive of Syrinix; Dr Mike Brock, lecturer in microeconomics at UEA; Gareth Roberts, director of Cambond; and Cynthia Adu, an engineering doctorate student from Cranfield University. Picture: Bethany Whymark

Speakers at the Driving Clean Growth conference at the University of East Anglia's Enterprise Centre. (L-R) James Dunning, chief executive of Syrinix; Dr Mike Brock, lecturer in microeconomics at UEA; Gareth Roberts, director of Cambond; and Cynthia Adu, an engineering doctorate student from Cranfield University. Picture: Bethany Whymark

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Investment in clean technologies is picking up following a “rocky” period for private funding – and organisations in East Anglia are being urged to show their support.

The Driving Clean Growth conference, organised by Hethel Innovation and Cleantech East, sought to encourage collaboration between the public and private sectors to support the cleantech industry, from business-sponsored university research projects to councils supporting infrastructure development for renewable energy projects.

The value of Norfolk and Suffolk’s “green economy” – firms working to reduce waste or emissions and increase resource efficiency – is expected to reach £50bn in the next 20 to 25 years.

Speakers at the conference – held at the University of East Anglia, a long-standing leader in climate change research – outlined the business case for the public and private sectors to be open to innovation – and the possibility of failure.

Dr Mike Brock, a lecturer in microeconomics at UEA, said risk-averse researchers could learn from innovative companies.

“What I find really refreshing, which does not happen now in universities, is businesses are prepared to try something and have the approach that it might fail, but they’re going to do it anyway because it might pay off. They realise the end goal,” he said.

James Dunning, chief executive of Hethel-based Syrinix which produces smart water pipeline monitoring systems, suggested firms separate research and development from their everyday operations.

“By taking it outside of the business you give it room to breathe,” he said. “It is difficult to just overlay that initial work on to the main business because you are busy already and it is probably not a main performance indicator, but you should have a plan for adoption.”

Mr Dunning said investment in cleantech had plateaued in recent years, particularly early stage investment which he feels is more important for the sector’s progression.

But he believes the dry spell is coming to an end. “Corporates are starting to come in and we are starting to see a transition to funding that is much more appropriate to the sector,” he said.

Chris Starkie, chief executive of New Anglia LEP, said the region was in a “good position” for cleantech investment with £50bn of capital expenditure planned in up 2020, mostly for renewable energy projects.

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