Greater Manchester Business Board (LEP) members, local business leaders and net zero innovators came together at Bruntwood’s Circle Square on 13th July 2023 for The Energy Innovation Agency’s event “Net-Zero for Greater Manchester – challenges and innovation opportunities”.
The event provided an opportunity for those passionate about decarbonising to network, allowing innovators and end users to meet with the view of closing crucial testing gaps in the innovation cycle and accelerating the commercialisation of green technologies.
Throughout the event, which was chaired by Greater Manchester Business Board (LEP) Green Lead Steve Connor, leaders in the space were invited to join panels which discussed the biggest energy challenges business are facing as well as guidance for helping them to reach net zero.
The day began with an introduction to the Energy Innovation Agency, its goals and how it works with innovators and end users to help Greater Manchester overcome energy challenges. The Energy Innovation Agency aims to create direct alignment between net zero projects and local strategy and enhance the relationship between industry and academia to position Greater Manchester as a destination of choice for innovators. It aims to create pathways to commercialisation making it more accessible and straightforward for innovators. Through cross-sector collaborations it aims to help businesses in the region overcome their biggest energy challenges, as well as helping to foster public confidence in new approaches and technologies.
Peter Emery, chair of Greater Manchester’s Energy Innovation Agency discussed the importance of investment in R&D, saying “In our view the race to net zero is simple, it’s about welcoming innovation. What we’re trying to do is get deployment at scale. Success will only be achieved when these solutions are economically attractive vs fossil fuel alternatives. Unless net zero innovations are competitive, they aren’t going to fly on a long-term basis. Broadly speaking our role is one of facilitation, support, advice and access. This is a major challenge, and we’ll try and play our part to make it happen.”
The first-panel session of the day discussed Greater Manchester’s Energy Challenges. Sarah Bateman, CEO of Unify Energy, Ben Peace Net Zero Principal at The Growth Company and Green Economy, Aisling McNulty Development Director at Bruntwood Works and Richard Hagan Managing Director of Crystal Doors joined the conversation with Steve Connor.
The panel discussed the challenges for businesses adopting green technology from a lack of investment and accessibility to a lack of knowledge and finding the right support.
Ben Peace said “A lot of businesses don’t really know where to start, they’ve heard about a range of technologies but it can be happenstance which technology they zero in on. They need support at scale, direct and on-site to know which technology is going to deliver quickly and efficiently.”
Sarah Bateman said “Accessibility is the big issue. There aren’t enough solutions in the market for SMEs to access. We’re operating in a really tough economic climate and the last thing companies want to do right now is focus on something they don’t need to do until 2030. Innovation as a word and concept may be scaring people. We are living in tough times and people will be risk averse.”
The next panel was all about The Green Skills Gap and how Greater Manchester is working to address this critical issue in the race to Net Zero. Joining Steve Connor for the panel was fellow Greater Manchester Business Board (LEP) member Dr Marilyn Comrie, Roosevelt Alexander Director of Skills at the Growth Company, Rory Matthews Senior Policy and Partnerships Officer for Low Carbon at Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Chris Fletcher GMLSIP Director and Policy Director at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
The panel discussed the green skills gap and the benefits of Greater Manchester’s trailblazing devolution deal in solving this as well as how to improve diversity in this space and engage young people from a range of backgrounds in Green Careers. Speakers discussed the advantages of Greater Manchester’s Green Skills Academy, which is led by The Growth Company, The Manchester Innovation Activities Hub and the new GMLSIP and technical education plan.
Dr Marilyn Comrie said “The climate emergency is providing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a just transition. It presents an opportunity to normalise having people that look like me and my sons involved in creating the solutions that will save the planet. Because it is so pressing, it is creating a wealth of opportunities and opportunities for local people to get skills training and get into well-paid jobs.
A skilled workforce is absolutely essential, it’s not just about research, we need the people. We need to upskill, reskill and train people and we need them quickly. Employers are telling us they can’t wait for a four-year apprenticeship, they need training programmes that will help them to access people that they need now.”
Chris Fletcher said “There’s no silver bullet solution to this but it is right across the piece. It’s not just people fitting the kit, it’s the support mechanism. The business itself has a role to play to encourage people and say this is for everybody. There is such a demand for this it isn’t going to disappear anytime soon, there needs to be more engagement between businesses and potential employees.”
Rory Matthews said “What we might see down the line is the wave of enthusiasm of young people driving the change like never before. At the moment we’re at a local minimum but we need to invest more to unleash some incredible solutions.
“The devolution deal will be important to understanding the challenges at a local level and not having a one sized fits all approach that isn’t tailored to a locality and isn’t generic across Greater Manchester.”
The afternoon session provided an introduction to Innovate GM and The Built Environment Demonstrator Funding, showing innovators and businesses how they could get involved.
To learn more about The Energy Innovation Agency and how they support businesses across Greater Manchester visit their website.
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