Searching for the right buttons to push

Last week saw a lot of activity driven by the economic situation - either at company or Government level.  

Monday was a series of meetings around the frenzied preparation for the launch of our Retrofit for the Future competition being run under the Low Impact Buildings Innovation Platform.  We have been working to develop our presence in this area for a couple of years now.  We started by leveraging the Code for Sustainable Homes and its impact on the market, but the analysis that we need to address existing as well as new homes, together with the impact of the economic situation on the construction industry, gave us the impetus to design and execute this new competition.  We are aiming to apply a combination of the latest technologies in at least 50 existing homes, achieving at least 60% energy savings. These homes will then act as demonstrators for others.

Tuesday: a telephone discussion with Ofwat about our forthcoming workshop on innovation in the water industry. The whole sector is focused on the anticipated output of the Cave Review, and although many are looking to what Martin Cave recommends on competition, there is a growing group within the industry who are thinking about the companion piece on innovation. Infrastructure industries like water have a characteristic cycle of many years - the sewerage system of London was mainly built between 1856 and 1865 - and it seems to have become difficult for companies to justify investment with these timescales for return. We have now started the process of industry consultation that has worked well for our previous Innovation Platforms, unpacking the long term goals of the industry and developing a shared roadmap of the route to achieve these goals.

One of our regular co-ordination meetings is with the Foresight team from GO-Science. The process is a bit like building any relationship - each time we tell one another more about what we do, we discover new links and areas of overlap and complementarity. This time we discussed our strategies in Electronic, Photonics and Electrical Systems and Information and Communications Technologies, followed by another exploration of the output of their Mental Capital and Well-Being project. For this, the Foresight group have taken another tack and come at an old problem with a fresh approach which, every time we discuss it, turns up new questions and challenges to address.  We also compared notes on the progress of their Sustainable Energy Management in the Built Environment project and our Low Impact Buildings Innovation Platform.

Wednesday'sfirst meeting was with ITF and DECC about our current competition on Maximising Recovery of UK's Oil and Gas Resources and how we can work together in the future.

Then, in the afternoon,a quick trip to express solidarity with the Carbon Trust at their Stakeholder Meeting. I was a bit late (heavy traffic) so snuck in the back as Tom Delay started his talk. The Carbon Trust has been in business since 2001 and has developed a range of activities to meet the needs of those who share their belief that carbon reduction and economic growth can go hand-in-hand.  We have been working with them and the Energy Technologies Institute to find ways of ensuring that the apparent abundance of Government backed initiatives in the energy space doesn't confuse and put off the people we are all trying to help.

I then rushed back to BERR for the "Building the Britain of the Future" Expo that was to round off the launch of "Science: So what?"  This event emphasised application of science and was a showcase for 20 companies and 4 supporting organisations.  It was incredibly impressive to see all this talent and achievement squeezed into the BERR Conference Centre.  We had been involved in setting it up, so I knew many of the companies present - I even own a couple of their products!  I wished the event could have been more open, so that more could see the potential of this sort of company.

At 5 o'clock the room assembled for speeches and discussion, and Lord Drayson kicked off by apologising that the Prime Minster wouldn't be attending. This meant John Denham gave the speech that launched our "Retrofit for the Future" competition - although the reports stated that the PM gave it!  Then as the panel discussion was about to start, the Prime Minster did arrive and gave a short speech saying that "science was at the centre of Government."  The panel discussion was twittered (officially as well as unofficially), recorded and managed to spark some lively discussions.

I ended the evening in a pub with Tony Ryan who has been an EPSRC Media Fellow, given the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures and bailed me out at conferences over many years. We talked about his work with the London College of Fashion where he had been lecturing all day. The fusion of his chemistry expertise and the work of several designers is a constant source of new ideas.

Next day started interestingly. Because they were all in London for their gala dinner (see later) the Biotechnology Industries Association (BIA) were bringing around groups of biotech CEOs to influence policy makers and funders.  So it was that I got to spend time with the leaders of ReNeuron and Cyclacel.  I now understand a little better the technologies their companies are developing, but I also know some of the challenges facing them in that course. It's this sort of discussion that informs not only what we do, but how to do it to be most useful to the companies we are trying to support. The rest of the day was spent flying from one meeting to another, and disappeared in a bit of a blur. 

That evening I got the chance to put on my DJ and strut down to the Natural History Museum for the 13th BIA Annual Dinner.  It was a good chance to meet my new friends from the morning,catch up with some BBSRC people and talk to the BERR Biotech group about the recent Review and Refresh of their 2003 Report.  Lord Drayson gave a great talk, short and to the point, but the quote of the evening came from Dame Helena Shovelton, the CEO of the British Lung Foundation (chosen charity for the evening) who, accepting the cheque, said "if my mother knew that one day I would talking from between the back legs of a dinosaur, she would have been proud!"

Friday saw a trip up to Jaguar in Coventry to discuss our Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform and the competitions that are running under it. We launched our first competition in September 2007 - when the world looked a very different place - and we are staying very close to the main players in the UK automotive industry to make sure that our focus areas are aligned with what is important for them and our support mechanisms deliver appropriately.


Last updated on Friday 24 February 2012 at 10:31

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