This month’s speakers where challenged with looking at green and clean-tech technology, how it is being used and the benefits that people are getting from it, with an eye on our September session on feed-in tariffs. They also shared some of their thoughts on the long-term future on the new way of using these various technologies.
John Ashford (Sainsbury’s) set out the 3 principles that Sainsbury’s want to see and how they assess the long-term future of any green or clean technologies. These are that any new technologies must be sustainable, cost effective and simple, which he explains in this context as something that can be easily replicated and manageable for those in charge of the technologies. John went on to draw on the experience and lessons they have learnt since the unveiling of their first completely environmental supermarket in Greenwich 10 years ago. The pioneering store was fitted with all the available green technologies of the time e.g. natural refrigerance, rainwater harvesting and CHP, much of which had fallen into disrepair 7 years later. The lesson here was that the technology is only as good as the people there to manage it. After review they kept on all the technologies but strove to make them far simpler to manage. Having done this, they have been able to make sure that 85% of the practices in that store are implemented into their standard specification on any new projects.
John is quick to point out that a “one off” store is not sustainable, and goes back to the mantra that the model going forward must be simple and easily replicatable. John finished off by illustrating Sainsbury’s open to offers stance on finance models for green and clean technology. He harks back to one of his opening principles, that any new technology has to be cost-effective and on their scale this means looking at rolling out technologies, 20, 30 fold, and still seeing these wins.
John was followed by Martin Blake from Royal Mail, a company with a similar footprint to Sainsbury’s. With regards to clean technologies that Royal Mail have explored, Martin sees a clear divide in what they refer to as “mobile” and “stationary” technologies, that equally splits the operations within their business. He states that they are open to using all technologies and have tried and tested any you can name. In their mobile fleet, this includes hydrogen cell technology, bio methane and aerodynamic kits on their larger vehicles to increase efficiency, to name but a few. The primary consideration made with any of these technologies, if casting an eye to implementing in the long-term is can it be costed-in, as the boards concerns is not with carbon reduction but cost reduction and efficacy.
By looking at all potential technologies along the marginal abatement cost curve, Royal Mail hope to always back a success. An example cited by Martin, was their use of Sabien’s boiler optimisation technology, which even in a trial period of six weeks had paid back. When one reaches this stage, this is where he believes the next step towards third party financing can be made. If capital rationing is set in, the wins that can be gained by all from capital being reaped through e.g. energy share contracts will remove all the barriers to any board resistance. Martin’s conclusion is that though Carbon is important, his belief is that carbon costs money so we should save as much of it as possible.
Completing the panel was Rob Wylie a venture capitalist from WHEB Ventures, who offered a different stance on clean technologies from a pure investment point. Rob was quick however, to assert the position of WHEB as a solely clean technology investment fund, the principle on how they were founded. They therefore review all their portfolio companies on their own environmental performance every year. As a fund, the key aspects they review on any potential investment is whether it is easy to ply, if there is a clear market interest and traction, if it is scalable (can be replicated), is proven to be reliable and has a rapid revenue return. Rob points out that too often in this area many think of just renewable technologies. At WHEB, renewables are one of only five silos of investment that they look at, with the others all looking at industrial efficiency e.g. waste and water.
Rob’s reluctance to invest in large scale renewable projects revolves around reasons to do with capital intensity to introduce the technology, the reliance on government subsidies (something that does not show stability) and the revenue risk with relying on such long term returns. He concludes that this area has huge potential but more dialogue is needed to have real traction.
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