Sometimes, it seems, you really do get what you wish for. If you know anything about ecoConnect, you’ll know that we have often voiced a frustration with the lack of engagement we have seen from Government ministers. Thanks to Vince Cable, that just changed.
Last night’s launch of ecoConnect’s Scottish forum in Edinburgh was always going to be a great event: highly knowledgeable panel in place, superb delegate list and a keynote address from John Ireland; it certainly ticked the boxes for us. When we were told, therefore, that Dr Cable was considering attending, we were pretty flattered – when he came and personally engaged with us and our audience, we were delighted. Yes the picture opportunities and the press interest his visit generated was all good but, more than that, his attendance was a very positive endorsement of the importance of the sector.
So what messages did the panel and the audience deliver? As we would expect when the topic is innovation there were positives and negatives in the room. There was acknowledgement of the seriousness with which the Scottish Government is taking the decarbonisation of the economy and the recognition of the moral imperative behind this. There was recognition of the steps being made to develop a route map to 2020 through initiatives such as Resource Efficient Scotland and Heat Vision. There was a sense of optimism about the opportunities to build confidence in the sector through the Green Investment Bank if it can help capital flow and release investment at the smaller end of the project scale. And there was a real appreciation of the great research and development work going on in Scotland and the key role played by the Scottish universities.
But there were concerns and they will sound very familiar. The uncertainty surrounding policy. The lack of confidence and patience from investors. The poor communication between technologies, academia, government and the money which still characterises too much of the sector. The failure of innovators to recognise the importance of showing commercial viability from day one and to build the type of teams investors expect. All important issues and all needing debate but what really focussed the discussion was something that no one could determine an answer to: how to create the behavioural change which is essential to resource efficiency.
We certainly had a range of solutions proposed, from market transformation through legislation (or command and control as one panellist very eloquently put it)to increasing energy prices to improved communication of benefits – the notion of expressing savings on energy bills as cans of Tennants was particularly entertaining but perhaps a little niche, although I’m sure there is a system in here if we can just map the country correctly. What everyone did agree on was that there is no easy answer to this and that any politician who tried the more punitive measures (or measures that might increase the horrors of fuel poverty) was either very brave or very foolish. What they also agreed on was that behavioural change has to be tackled.
I think this is the point at which we bring Mr Cable back in…