THE BLOG

Achieving Low Carbon Cities Means Supporting New Technologies

07/03/2016 10:24 GMT | Updated 07/03/2017 10:12 GMT

The world population is set to explode, from 7.3 billion today to around 9.7 billion in 2050, with two thirds of those living in cities. As urban areas grow, emissions will grow along with them: between 67 and 76 per cent of global energy consumption takes place in urban areas, consumption that accounts for a huge amount of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Last year's UN Climate Conference (COP21) in Paris reached a landmark deal and set out new targets for reducing emissions in an effort to limit global warming to a maximum 2 degree rise above pre-industrial levels, the threshold at which climate change poses a severe risk to human life.

Technology is pivotal in helping us to meet these targets. Many of the technologies we need to decarbonise already exist. But there is no silver bullet. New technologies and continued innovation needs to be encouraged.

The problem is that emerging technologies can often struggle to secure investment, severely hampering their development and market uptake. This is particularly the case in the environmental sector, with current VC investment in clean technology standing at $4.8bn globally, far below the peak in 2008 of $12.3bn. Furthermore, subsidies in the energy sector often create unfair market conditions by favouring proven established technologies, many of which are contributing to climate change rather than helping to address it. The International Energy Agency assessed the total amount of subsidies to both fossil fuel and clean energy industries in 2013 and it found that the former received four times more than the latter.

I work for the National Physical Laboratory, the UK's national measurement institute, where we're working to support new technologies to accelerate their development. As an independent and impartial measurement lab, we're able to test that technologies do what they say on the tin, and for technologies that work, help to build the confidence required to increase market uptake.

This year, we worked with ENGIE, the World Economic Forum's Young Global Leaders and the Climate-KIC to help bring technology to cities that will make them cleaner environments through a competition called the Decarbonathon.

Four of the five winners identified by the competition were geared towards making transport more efficient or were transport related. The overall winner of the Decarbonathon, Mobiliteam, developed an air booster that reduces the energy consumption of electric vehicles by improving the energy efficiency of air conditioning systems, whilst having no effect on the passenger's comfort. Runner up, Bynd, developed a car-pooling app for commuters from the same (or nearby) companies to share journeys. Meanwhile, finalist RAIDERS, a taxi ordering and price comparison app to make the last mile of a journey as easy as possible, was the winner of a public vote in the competition.

TEBS - the "Traffic Energy Bar System", was a fourth transport related competitor aiming to reduce emissions. TEBS is a system installed across high traffic areas, in which bars are pressed down by the wheels of the car as it moves over them, creating an up and down motion that generates electricity to power other systems in the city.

Looking to reduce domestic emissions is another innovation receiving help through the scheme, called Mutum. Borne out of the sharing economy, Mutum wants to showcase how objects can be lent rather than bought and then only used once or twice.

What is the future for these technologies? The winners are now given industry support and exposure to potential investors to help them overcome any obstacles to their success.

There is a growing public appetite for low carbon technology. Recently the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change published a public attitudes tracker, which suggests 75% of UK adults support renewable energy. The Decarbonathon and other technology incubators help increase awareness of what technologies urbanites and city authorities can invest in to reduce their emissions and be part of the solution.

We have the technology to help reduce urban emissions and the entrepreneurs that will build the technologies of the future. The agreements at COP21 demonstrate that political will is also there, giving both technology developers and investors more certainty about the future regulatory environment.

Mission Innovation saw 20 countries pledging to double cleantech R&D over the next five years, and for the Breakthrough Energy Coalition the world's leading tech giants have joined forces to invest in high risk, early stage clean tech companies. Given this momentum, the investment picture will change and if we continue to support innovation it will become easier to get new technologies out into the mainstream market.