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All hands on deck – Our net zero future is about the part we all need to play

06 Sep 2021

SSE was recently added to the roster of world-class (and Scottish headquartered) sponsors of Converge, Scotland’s largest company creation programme for the university sector. We agreed to offer £20,000 for a new initiative – The Net Zero Award - designed to springboard academic entrepreneurs tackling the climate emergency. The event is due to be held on September 30.

The award begs the question, ‘what role can renowned industrial giants have in encouraging new ideas to tackle Net Zero?’ The phrase ‘Net Zero’ is a much used, perhaps less well understood term to describe a target of completely negating the amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activity. SSE has, committed to achieve ‘net zero’ carbon emissions from all of our business operations by 2050 at the latest.

On the face it, SSE adopts and installs tried and tested technologies to bring us large scale offshore and onshore wind farms and operate our 100-year-old hydro plant. The company is at the forefront of the net zero transition currently constructing the world’s largest off-shore wind farm at Dogger Bank, capable of powering up to 4.5m homes and investing £7.5bn in the five years to 2025 in low carbon infrastructure.

These huge investments have brought new innovations, Doggar Bank wind turbines have a blade length of 107m - bigger than a football pitch length.

Meanwhile SSE leads the charge for Peterhead Power Station to become one of the UK’s first full CO2 capture power plant, capturing and storing 1million tonnes of CO2 per year. But reaching Net Zero can surely not be the domain of only the giants.

John Kerry, Climate Envoy for the US recently said; ‘“I’m told by scientists that 50% of the reductions we have to make (to get to near zero emissions) by 2050 or 2045 are going to come from technologies we don’t yet have.” This caused controversy as scientists and engineers contested that the urgency was in using current technology more quickly. The time taken to develop new ideas would be too slow.

My contention is that we need all hands-on deck: We need to get the tried and tested technologies deployed quickly through commercial terms, as SSE is doing in offshore wind and carbon capture. But we also need the bright new start-ups, innovating and devising the new ideas and technologies that will become the tried and tested technologies of the future.

The UK government is offering funding for innovations in hydrogen;  energy storage and CO2 capture and usage technologies, to name just a few. SSE has many examples of jointly funding technology development projects with government, like the Aberdeen Hydrogen Project, now operating hydrogen buses across the city.

This ecosystem of joint government and industrial funding is vital in an effective innovation ecosystem. However, it only pulls through technologies that have made it to trial stage.

As vital to the innovation ecosystem is the generation of  new ideas as quickly as possible, through initiatives such as Converge.

Converge operates at the start of the pipeline, reaching into the Scottish academic communities and pulling those fresh ideas at conceptual stage. Many of these ideas will need to be generated to create just one that will achieve commercial reality. An effective innovation ecosystem needs support and funding at all stages in the innovation pipeline, and with the drive to Net Zero more urgent than ever, ensuring these support and facilitation systems are in place is vital.

Avoiding dangerous climate change and achieving net zero emissions across all human activity has no easy single solution. Innovation will be needed in every facet of life from how we drink coffee to how we heat our homes; to how we manage our land; to how we move around. Like I say, we need all hands-on deck.

This SSE sponsored award for Converge is one way we can encourage new competitive ideas to bring about an accelerated path to decarbonising our economy. That is good for both Scotland and beyond.