Posts Tagged ‘cleantech’

From Tech City to Smart City?

December 18, 2012

(c) Cleanweb UK

Is Silicon Roundabout going green? I’ve written a new piece about London’s emerging ‘cleanweb’ scene, highlighting some of the fascinating new firms and ideas emerging from the area.

You can read short versions on the Huffington Post and the SERC blog. The piece was commissioned by LSE Cities, and the full version is in the LSE Cities ‘Electric City’ conference newspaper.

It all builds on the Centre for London report A Tale of Tech City, which came out over the summer.

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I’m starting to write all this up into a journal article or articles – so comments are very welcome.

More new stuff

March 7, 2011

I’ve put out a bunch of new academic and policy stuff in the past few weeks. Fresh from the ideas workshop, here it all is …

LSE’s Spatial Economics Research Centre has just published three of my phd papers in their working paper series. They are:

1) The Economics of Superdiversity [link]

2) The Long Term Impacts of Migration in UK Cities: Diversity, wages, employment and prices [link]

3) Does Cultural Diversity Help Innovation in Firms? Evidence from London (with Neil Lee) [link]

I’ll be presenting paper no.2 next month at the big NORFACE/UCL migration conference in London and at the RSA’s 2011 conference in Newcastle.

I’ll also be talking through all three papers (and discussing Richard Floria) at the AAG 2011 conference in Seattle in mid-April. If you’re there come and say hello!

More importantly, the UN Environment Programme launched a huge piece of work on the green economy a couple of weeks back, with a globally-streamed event in Nairobi and much other fanfare. This includes a report on Cities in the Green Economy [pdf], published by an LSE Cities team (including yours truly). LSE also did a sister report on Green Buildings [pdf].

You can read the whole lot, and some summary papers, on the Green Economy microsite.

Germany’s Silicon Valley?

December 15, 2010

LSE Cities have just published a new paper of mine on innovation and growth in the Munich city-region. In terms of high-tech growth, the Munich metro is probably Germany’s Silicon Valley – it’s a fascinating story, with lessons for both the Bay Area and for British policymakers.

The report (written with Philipp Rode, Gesine Kippenberg and others) was launched last week at the Brookings-LSE Global Metro Summit in Chicago. You can find other speeches, papers and video here.

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For over two decades, Munich has had Germany’s highest share of technology patents per population. Like the Bay Area, it’s led the rest of the country on ICT. And Munich’s story has some further, surprising parallels to the history of the Valley. Over the past 60 years, both have shifted from mainly rural communities to high-tech hubs. Both offer a strong economy and an excellent quality of life – something that’s helped keep people in the area. And both benefited from Federal defence funding – Pentagon money helped fund the early Internet, while in Munich’s case defence cash built up the advanced manufacturing sector.

In other ways, Munich is very different. The metro has a notably diverse economy – the ‘Munich Mix’ spans manufacturing, ICT, life sciences, finance and creative industries, unlike the Bay Area which is still dominated by computing.

More importantly, Munich’s economic development has been hugely influenced by the State, especially the Bavarian regional government. It’s essentially a social democratic Silicon Valley.

Government spends heavily on public schools, universities and strategic infrastructure. Munich is at the centre of a network of innovation intermediaries – public research agencies like the Fraunhofer Institutes, dedicated to technology transfer. And there are very strong networks between public and private sectors.

In the jargon, this is ‘institutional thickness’. It’s created a strongly technocratic vision of economic progress, and a clear sense of common purpose. Or as they say at Audi: Vorsprung durch Technik.

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As a result, Munich’s leaders rode out a potentially disastrous period in the early 1990s when the area was hit by a triple whammy of re-unification, recession and global competition. Over the next two decades, state and city developed a rolling programme of policies to grow innovation capacity.

Our research suggests it paid off. Munich’s per capita economic output remains comfortably above regional and national averages. The metro has also markedly increased innovative activity in ICT, biotech and green industries – with a three-fold rise in green patents over the last 20 years.

The growing green economy sector has also benefited from pro-green federal policies, which have guaranteed a market for green energy and thus spurred a new industry of green energy products and services.

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Of course, Silicon Valley’s market-led model has yet to face such a crisis point. But as the Valley focuses on ‘cleantech’, Munich’s state-led model is looking increasingly attractive. VC money is pouring into green economy start-ups across the Bay Area. But California still lacks the quality public education system that will connect local people into new jobs.

More importantly, the US has not introduced market-making incentives like carbon pricing or feed-in tariffs. So California is going its own way – although its State-level cap and trade scheme has only just survived a Big Oil-sponsored public vote.

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What can the UK learn from the Munich experience? A lot of lessons are familiar. High-tech regions grow out of what’s there. Economic diversity is helpful, adding resilience and helping stimulate new ideas. Human capital is critical, as are good schools and universities. Both time and luck matter more than we’d like.

For me, the crucial lessons from Munich are about what the public sector can do. There are three.

First, decentralisation has given Munich flexibility to develop policies that suit its needs. It’s also helped strong leaders to develop, and over time, effective working across boundaries (and political parties).

Second, both local and national governments have kept up public investment in the things that matter – notably human capital, public services and strategic infrastructure.

Third, incentives and market-making are really important – especially in moving towards a greener economy. British cities can do something here, but it’s really about national policy, and political leadership.

Green cities, green jobs

March 7, 2010

Green jobs are hot. All three political parties want to shift Britain onto a low-carbon growth path. It’s a powerful meme. Two questions, then: what are green jobs? And where will they be? My guess is: mostly quite boring. But they will be everywhere, and they will be a big deal for towns and cities.

So what are ‘green jobs’? ippr’s new report suggests that ‘all jobs should be green’ in future. I’m not sure. Let’s focus on activities with the biggest carbon footprint: energy, waste, transport and construction. Some jobs in other sectors can be greened too, say if manufacturers adopt more sustainable workflows.

Where will green jobs be? To answer that, we need to consider how the UK moves onto a greener growth trajectory. There are two basic approaches, impling different roles for government – and different levels of political engagement.

Let’s call the first the Green Industries approach. This is about increasing the UK’s global share of high-value green activity – like wind turbines and low-carbon vehicles. It also encompasses major infrastructure like high-speed rail. National Government holds the policy levers: public money, tax breaks, business support (and to an extent, picking winners).

The second approach we could call Green Places. This is about making towns, cities and households more sustainable. The focus is on non-traded activities: buildings, energy and waste systems, local public transport – and things like repairing windmills on roofs.

Local government has a critical role here, alongside Whitehall: via recycling, local planning standards (like the Merton Rule), procurement and PPPs (like the ESCOs in Woking and Birmingham). Whitehall matters behind the scenes – for example, through DECC’s new Feed-In Tariff rules.

Green Industries are the sexy, photogenic things politicians get excited about, and are the focus of Labour’s Low Carbon Industrial Strategy, the Conservatives’ ‘Marine Energy Parks’ idea, and the Lib Dems’ green growth plans. Interestingly, the Tories seem keener on Green Places than Labour – see proposals for a ‘green deal’ for households, and support for micro-generation.

My guess is that Green Industries, though exciting, will only take the UK so far. First, only a few places will have them. The range of green technologies is vast. With no global standards, potential for international growth is capped. Most importantly, geographies of innovation, production and sales already differ. Silicon Valley leads the US in ‘cleantech’ R&D – but large-scale manufacturing is already shifting from the US to China and other cheap locations.

Second, the UK is already lagging. In wind turbines – where Britain should be a leader – the top firms are German and Scandinavian. (From this perspective, one of the saddest things about last year’s Vesta dispute is that Vesta is Danish).

Third, policy options are pretty limited. Green industries in the US are supported by Government stimulus money and a massive VC sector. Other European governments have funded producers for years. Britain has plenty of strategy, but limited cash to back these up. Low Carbon Economic Areas have no funding attached, and rely on existing RDA / LA budgets plus local ingenuity. The experience of Science Cities, a similar approach, doesn’t get my hopes up.

The Green Places approach is much more prosaic, but will have bigger impacts on more people. Cities’ carbon footprint is large: the C40 group estimates that worldwide, urban areas represent around 75% of the world’s energy use and CO2 emissions. Fiscally, Green Places largely involves redirecting existing budgets. (Some costs are passed on to firms and households – but councils should be allowed to use tools like TIF to ease financing constraints.)

Finally, British local government is already on the case. The Merton Rule is a classic example of how local policy innovation has shaped national thinking. Woking is a leader in decentralised energy. And Greater Manchester’s LCEA proposals look pretty good, with a five-year retrofit programme, small-scale renewables and smart meters for thousands of households across the city.

The UK needs both green industries and green places. But let’s not get over-excited about the first, while underplaying the second. Green jobs might be more dull than we thought. But they’re important as ever.

How green is the Valley?

November 10, 2009

(c) www.treehugger.com

In 2007, Al Gore laid down a challenge to Silicon Valley: invent the technologies to conquer climate change. The Valley has spent the past few years trying to do just that. The green economy and ‘cleantech’ are big deals here: if you believe the hype, this is what Silicon Valley 3.0 will look like.

So can the world’s most innovative region really do it again?

It’s important to pin down what the green economy means. UC Berkeley’s Karen Chapple identifies four components: energy, building, transport and recycling. Each is very broad – e.g. energy covers tidal, wind and solar power, decentralised infrastructure (or ‘smart grids’), and installation and maintenance activity.

The South Bay has rapidly developed a presence in all of these, particularly in solar (which shares technologies with semiconductor manufacture). Joint Venture Silicon Valley recently put out a Greenprint for the Valley [pdf] setting out ‘climate prosperity’ – growing a new generation of innovative, world-beating firms and dealing with climate change on the side. For solar, the upper level jobs target is 20,000 positions by 2017.

The Valley has plenty of first-mover advantages – a big talent pool, strong industry networks, an entrepreneurial culture, lots of venture capital, eco-conscious consumers, and helpful regulation designed to boost local green industries (California recently passed AB32, a state-level cap and trade scheme, and has just passed AB920, a feed-in tariff system).

The area’s cultural diversity helps too. Kim Walesh, San Jose’s Chief Strategist points out that South Bay firms are already plugging into big markets in Chinese cities.

And yet … this may not turn out to be the world’s eco-region. As GBN analyst Olaf Groth told me, the sheer diversity of ‘the green economy’ presents challenges – much of has limited ICT crossover. Geographies of innovation, production and sales are diverse, and don’t really favour a single hot location. There are dozens of distinct cleantech clusters in the US and around the world; production is often outsourced; consumer markets are very localised. It will be hard for Valley firms to access all of these.

Government’s role is also critical. Green technologies need subsidy and regulation to be fully economic: traditional VC won’t invest on a 20 year payback schedule. But the big public contracts that helped kick start ICT 30 years ago will be harder to secure today.

So the Valley’s traditional advantages may be of limited help. And as Karen Chapple and Bill Lester argue in forthcoming research, green industry may not mean local green jobs. The South Bay already has a number of defunct semi-conductor factories, as production shifts to cheaper locations offshore.

What can we Brits learn from this? I think there’s a few key points here. First, ‘green growth’ is feasible. But UK policymakers need to get clearer on which bits can generate growth and jobs. In energy, that means wind and tidal power; and there will be significant waste, construction, transport and maintenance markets in urban areas.

Second, there is an important spatial dimension. The UK is small but highly urbanised; many of the key green markets (in waste and transport, for example) will be in and around cities. London’s Mayor already has powers to combat climate change, and is using these to leverage extra funds for business development; other big cities should get the same.

Third, national policy is hugely important – meaning regulation, planning and tax tools aimed at fostering behaviour change and stimulating green industries. As the Turner Climate Change committee argues, this requires a strong national planning system.
The Opposition stance here is unhelpful: a Cameron Government would probably abolish the Independent Planning Commission, which takes decisions on energy networks.

More broadly, the UK is still seen as a bit soft on cleantech: according to Deutsche Bank, the UK is not seen as a safe bet for international investors, who increasingly prefer China or Germany.

The Silicon Valley story tells us there is unlikely to be a single winner in the green economy. But it also suggests that the UK can do a lot more to push forward its own distinct eco-sectors, and develop greener cities (and valleys) while we’re doing it.

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