Posts Tagged ‘low carbon industries’

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.

Is long term growth really ‘over’?

September 26, 2012

Robert Gordon’s new NBER paper, ‘Is US Economic Growth Over?’ has been making waves in the past few weeks. Here are a few thoughts on it.

A short version of Gordon’s argument is here. His provocative topline is:

The paper … suggests not just that economic growth was a one-time thing centred on 1750-2050, but also that because there was no growth before 1750, there might conceivably be no growth after 2050 or 2100. The process of innovation may be battering its head against the wall of diminishing returns. Indeed, this is already evident in much of the innovation sector …

Much of this is familiar from Tyler Cowen’s book ‘The Great Stagnation’, which kicked up a similar dustcloud in 2011. Gordon goes on to identify six ‘headwinds’ that may push back innovation in the States. These are: an ageing population, low skills and poor state education systems, inequality, globalisation and outsourcing, environmental constraints and government/consumer debt overhangs.

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Gordon is very clear that the analysis applies only to the US, but is also keen for researchers in other countries to pitch in. So, in no particular order:

1/ Many of the six ‘headwinds’ are much stronger in the US than elsewhere (a weak public education system in particular). As Gordon says, ‘my guess is that a Canadian or Swedish economist looking at the past and future of his or her country would not be nearly so alarmed’. (p23)

2/ Equally, some of these headwinds might reverse direction. For example, climate change may create new economic opportunities, not just constraints.

3/ This is very long wave analysis, and frankly it’s too early to tell if Internet-based innovation – Gordon’s ‘third industrial revolution’ – has really come to an end. That data only runs from 1960-2007; but previous revolutions took at least 100 years to fully diffuse. It feels premature to say that ‘the productivity impact of IR3 evaporated after only 8 years.’ (p13)

4/ There’s also something slightly odd about the historical treatment – which is done in terms of the country at the technology frontier. Gordon looks at the UK from 1300-1906, then the US til the present day. But it’s not obvious the underlying country drivers of growth are the same. And as Gordon acknowledges (p6), the future frontier country might not be the US.

5/ The analysis overlooks the dynamic nature of some innovations. Gordon suggests that urbanisation ‘only happens once’ – true, but its effects are persistent. Agglomeration economies can trigger virtuous cycles of urban development, raising growth over very long periods.

6/ Similarly, innovations like ‘travel speed’ haven’t changed much (p2) but their diffusion has been massive – e.g. far more people have access to plane travel than in 1958. This must have some impact on economic welfare through market size, if not on productivity.

7/ Gordon is perhaps a bit unfair on internet innovations. As he rightly points out, for most people running water and central heating are more ‘important’ than broadband. But he doesn’t really consider the internet as a general purpose technology with multiple affordances – many of which we’ve only just started to grasp. Equally, he doesn’t really consider big data, mobile, cloud or social technologies.

8/ The paper doesn’t really explore reasons why ‘IR3’ technologies haven’t fed through into labour productivity stats. There’s now a massive organisational literature which provides some answers. Work by Erik Brynjolfsson tells us that to make the most of ICTs, firms need to do substantial complementary investment in management and organisational structures. Research by John Van Reenen, Nick Bloom and others also highlights the importance of good management in triggering productivity gains for firms.

Some sectors have understood this better than others – such as ICT, retail and financial services, which have seen substantial technology-related productivity jumps.

In other words, just ‘putting a computer on the desk’ isn’t going to have much effect. And looking at average productivity changes hides some big sectoral differences. But this is how Gordon’s paper is thinking about it. A closer, finer-grained analysis might turn up some different answers.

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.

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