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      Fast Tracking Knowledge and Human Capital for Net Zero Energy Systems

      When world leaders come together to discuss a common goal as they did during the climate summit COP26, this collaboration can deliver some notable achievements.

      20 Feb 2022 Dr Andy Gilchrist, The Energy Systems Accelerator Oxford

      The Breakthrough Agenda is one ambitious outcome from the talks in Glasgow, a pledge from more than 40 countries to ‘turbo-charge’ the uptake of clean technologies with an aim of making it easier to channel global private investment into low-carbon infrastructure.

      Although government-led targets can drive forward global progress, the urgency of the climate crisis cries for further action. Even in light of a now-scientifically proven existential threat, humanity has trouble overcoming the massive barriers of national interest, company self-interest, system inertia and gross inequality. It feels like we are still a long way off keeping the 1.5 degree ambition alive, and the UK government’s Climate Change Committee has re-enforced this again: ‘the UK must not walk away after COP26… at home, we need to walk the talk and urgently deliver actions in the Net Zero Strategy’.

      Can we be optimistic that fast solutions can actually be found?

      Sitting at the western end of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, I am encouraged by how quickly the region has galvanised an infrastructure that can attract and produce, develop, finance, and commercialise new low carbon technologies at speed, and at scale. Young companies such as Mixergy, who create efficient, intelligent hot water tanks, Yasa and Saietta who both develop electric motors, Oxford PV producing silicon-perovskite tandem solar cells, Arrival developing electric vans and buses manufactured at micro-scale plants, and Brill Power’s battery management systems will provide some ‘building bricks’ of a new low carbon energy system: some are already showing the potential to be unicorns. Oxfordshire has four different approaches to fusion, three of which are private sector financed and so are focussed on commercial returns. It’s great to see this innovation underway across the Arc but also the wider UK, including innovation stimulated by the Government’s 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.

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      The Government’s Prospering from the Energy Revolution (PFER) Challenge is starting to tackle these big systems challenges.

      The core of this programme is three large-scale demonstrators, two of which are in Oxfordshire: Energy Superhub Oxford (ESO) and Project LEO (Local Energy Oxfordshire), which when combined represent an investment of almost £100m. Why are these located in Oxford? I am convinced one key reason is that, over the last 10 years and over a huge number of projects, we have focussed on breaking down traditional innovation silos: silos between disciplines, silos within organisations and silos between organisations.  We are learning how to bring together academia, industry, public sector organisations, community interest companies and consumers to fast-track development of both knowledge and human capital. 

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