“I am an optimist: it does not seem much use to be anything else.” Winston Churchill’s words are as true in today’s world as they were when he uttered them. The UK may not face the existential threats we faced in the 1940s, but we have challenges aplenty.
Some of these are global, such as how we make the most of new technologies such as artificial intelligence or driverless cars. Others are particular to the UK, such as how Britain will make its way in the world in the future, and what sort of economy we want after Brexit.
National or international, challenges are best tackled - as Churchill said - in a spirit of optimism. This is especially true when it comes to the environment. We all know that if we want a prosperous future and a healthy planet, the world needs abundant, clean, cheap energy. And we know that there is much at stake if we mess up: the downsides of blackouts, soaring fuel bills and global warming are all serious cause for concern.
But there is also much to be gained. If the UK can put itself at the forefront of the development of new green technologies, we will not only protect the environment, we will also boost our economy, generating exports, growth and jobs.
Today I’m proud to say we are making two big investments in the future of energy technology. We’re opening the headquarters of the Faraday Institution, which will serve as a world-leading centre for research into battery technology. And we’re launching the EnergyTec Cluster, which will bring together energy researchers and innovative businesses to develop the next generation of breakthrough green technologies – including new forms of battery, carbon-neutral alternatives to fossil fuels and new approaches to low-carbon building design. We want not only to be coming up with the ideas behind the next generation of green tech, but manufacturing and selling them too.
New developments in batteries are essential to making clean economic growth a reality: they allow us to store renewable energy created from renewable sources, and allow us to make better, cheaper low-emission vehicles. And if the UK can establish itself as a leader in battery manufacturing, other sectors will benefit too, not least our car industry, as more and more electric vehicles are produced.
In all these investments, it’s important to me that we back the innovators, the optimists and the insurgents – the new businesses and researchers who are looking to do things a different way, and break from the status quo. The EnergyTec Cluster will give these businesses a platform, and ensure we make the most of their passion and focus.
This brings me to the final announcement we are making today: a new scholarship programme run by the Faraday Institution for students from financially and socially disadvantaged backgrounds who want to study science and engineering degrees with a focus on energy storage or engineering. We can only rise to the challenges we face as a nation if we bring all our talents to bear.
All these investments are part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, which aims to boost economic growth and create good jobs across the country. An important part of the industrial strategy is our commitment to increasing investment in research and development to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, and then to 3.0%, ensuring that the UK remains one of the most technologically advanced economies in the world.
Today’s announcements represent a big investment in R&D, in enterprise and in talent. I believe that is the optimistic way tackle our energy challenges, and one that will reap benefits both for the UK and for the world as a whole.
Sam Gyimah is the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation