The University of Birmingham, together with Energy Capital and the Energy Systems Catapult, has unveiled a report making the case for the creation of Energy Innovation Zones (EIZs) in the West Midlands.
The commission, which was chaired by Sir David King, calls for four pilot energy hubs to be located in Central Birmingham and Tyseley, UK Central in Solihull, the Black Country and Coventry South.
The report states the main focus of the EIZs will be to integrate low carbon technologies, to develop the business models and infrastructure needed to support new approaches to clean energy as well as overcome the regulatory barriers necessary for them to flourish. They will be designed to stimulate local clean energy innovation and drive productivity, within the region, as well as exports and growth.
The EIZs aim to demonstrate new technologies, and to turn them into fully commercial propositions, breeding regional markets and supply chains that provide a platform for exports and growth. They will also offer a controlled environment in which innovators of all types can trial new services, technologies and business models.
They will also generate faster progress in the areas of energy that urgently need attention, such as transport and heat, where emissions have risen over the past few years.
The West Midlands region faces acute energy business and social challenges: energy poverty is among the worst in the UK; there is a high concentration of intensive manufacturing; poor quality air; as well as areas of electricity grid constraint.
Professor Martin Freer, from the University of Birmingham, Director of the Birmingham Energy Institute, and lead author on the report said: ‘Energy resources and challenges differ from place to place meaning solutions will differ by location. Many of the urgent problems require the integration of energy systems such as heat and electricity grids or the integration of energy into wider systems such as waste and transport, which must happen locally. So local leadership is vital to the success of clean energy investments, and a local approach could be nimbler, producing collaborations across the energy sector and new technologies faster, with less risk.’
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said: ‘The objective of the EIZs is to reduce emissions in the region and lower energy bills, meanwhile developing local supply chains, creating jobs, skills and markets.
‘Delivering clean growth means ensuring we can supply competitive power to increase productivity across our industrial base. It means ending fuel poverty for our most vulnerable citizens, building our existing skills base to grow new industries, delivering our share of the UK’s contribution to climate change targets and creating commercial successes in the energy arena for export worldwide.’
Sir David King, until recently the government’s special representative on climate change and Chair of the Commission said: ‘Tackling climate change is the most pressing issue of our time. Britain has been in the vanguard so far, reducing its carbon emissions by more than 40%, however the next steps are more challenging because we need to expand our efforts from electricity to heat and transport, which are harder to decarbonise.
‘The Energy Innovation Zone is a concept developed in the West Midlands that would allow the region to take control and ownership of the energy transition. Our commission report presents a compelling argument to invest in this locally driven model of clean energy transition and represents a major step forward in this field.’
Phil New, CEO of the Energy Systems Catapult, said: “The energy system that has served us so well faces profound uncertainty – driven in the main by decarbonisation, increasing digitalisation and decentralisation.
“If we are to unleash the innovation needed to transform the energy system and capture the clean growth opportunity recognised in UK Industrial Strategy, we must develop real solutions in the real world, with a focus on the local to enable national change.”