"The Challenge Will Be the Political Decisions": Dr Robert Gross, Director, Centre for Energy Policy and Technology, Imperial College London

New Statesman (1996), February 22, 2013 | Go to article overview

"The Challenge Will Be the Political Decisions": Dr Robert Gross, Director, Centre for Energy Policy and Technology, Imperial College London


Is there a country that you would single out as being particularly strong on innovation in energy policy terms?

The countries that have taken the lead on promoting renewables historically have been progressive European countries. But if you look around the world there are lots of countries involved in new forms of energy.

Britain is not doing too badly. We've got some innovative policies. We also lead on some technologies--for example, the marine technologies, wave and tidal power, are an area where Britain is particularly strong.

Has the UK government put forward an energy policy framework that will encourage economic growth in the green economy?

The key to getting green growth is not the technical details of the policy design, although these matter. Far more important is that you actually get political commitment behind it, because investors are very sensitive to that, and the key is to get the investment in, because that is what brings the jobs.

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Is there any one current innovation that you would pick out as having the greatest impact on policy? And if so, why?

It is very important that policy allows learning by doing. It is obviously critical for policy to support research, and policy needs to support the demonstration of technologies that haven't been proven by scale. An example of that might be carbon capture and storage. It is very important that we do demonstrations of that but it is also important that policy supports roll-out. That might sound a bit boring, but the evidence suggests that the more we can upscale technologies that are in their infancy, the better we get at them.

The analogy is in mobile phones. There is really no difference, if you like, between making solar panels (photovoltaics) cheap and making little flat screens that go into a mobile phone cheap; we just need to do lots of it. And that's critically important for policy.

The UK has set quite ambitious carbon-reduction targets. Do you think we will be able to meet them?

Things are being done to try to take us in that direction. We are ata crucial time.

We know we can do that if we want to; we have the technologies to reduce our carbon footprint dramatically. The challenge will be the economic and political decisions.

Do you think there is a problem surrounding the time it takes to get innovations from the concept stage to the market?

Yes. You can't change the energy system quickly; history tells us that the system changes over a period of decades. Irrespective of how quickly you can bring innovation to the marketplace, it will take time to get the infrastructure changed and we have to be realistic about that.

Do you think there is enough collaboration between universities and business?

There could always be more. Lots of collaboration takes place across universities such as Imperial College. …

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