Green Tech Conference 2023: Challenges, Success Stories and Sustainability – By Lucy Roue

Thursday, 23rd March 2023

Manchester has crested virtually every wave of innovation since the 18th century, and green technology is no exception.

The city region is committed to becoming the world’s first zero carbon region by 2038.

An ambitious target but one supported by a hive of innovators, collaborators, and local government organisations pushing for change.

From Manchester Fuel Cell Innovation Centre developing hydrogen as a sustainable fuel to Bruntwood’s roadmap for zero carbon buildings, it’s all go.

But what are the common challenges standing in the way of progress? And what can we learn from success stories?

These were some of the big talking points at pro-manchester’s Green Tech Conference 2023, headline sponsored by Appleyard Lees.

Other sponsors included Bruntwood SciTech, Spencer Churchill, Bee Net Zero, Manchester Metropolitan University, BusinessCloud, Siemens and The Growth Company.

The event brought more than 120 business leaders together at No.1 Circle Square for sessions packed with insights and industry vision.

As host Steve Connor, who sits on GM Business Board, said: “We need to change. Be brave. Work together and not hide from the climate crisis.

“The people in this room are at the cutting edge of this.”

The carbon challenge for businesses

Energy efficiency is now front and centre for many businesses due to rising costs.

So, one key piece of advice for businesses was to keep it simple and explore what’s already available.

Amy House, Director of Green Economy at GC Business Growth Hub explains: “There’s lots of businesses who don’t have an appreciation of what products and services are already on the marketplace.”

By making mainstream technology more accessible and changing behaviour, it will give businesses more impetuous to invest in R&D.

Similarly, Daniel Dickinson, Development Lead, at Energy Innovation Agency reminded businesses of incremental change.

“There is a risk that people make their minds up when the technology first emerges, but like many things, it improves over time.”

Elsewhere Hannah Drake, CEO of Enerlytic, made a good point about perception.

She said: “Organisations think it costs a lot to get to net zero but there’s things you can do which don’t cost a thing, in fact you can save money.”

Panellists agreed that Greater Manchester is ahead of other regions, but there’s plenty of support to do more.

Including the Bee Net Zero programme which is supporting 125,000 businesses target, plan and reach net zero.

The challenge of developing sustainable technology

Likewise, innovators face many challenges too.

Dr Marilyn Comrie, CEO of Manchester Innovation Activities Hub (MIAH) said many need help sourcing opportunities.

For example, battery manufacturing capability is ramping up in the UK, but innovators need access to supply chains and support to re-pivot.

There is also time and cost pressures for start-ups which are pre-revenue.

This makes finding the time to innovate, as well as registering IP, marketing, and accessing the right decision-makers, tricky.

So, what tips did the experts have?

Iain Henshaw, Chief Technology Officer at FutureBay, spoke of the importance of patents to secure venture capitalist funding, and being prepared to ‘evolve your route to market several times.’

Daniel Dickinson advised: “Remember not everyone is an energy manager.

“There’s some incredible AI around building management efficiency but unless it’s delivered in a way that decision-makers can understand, it won’t be deployed at scale.”

While Dr Comrie finished on a positive note saying: “My advice to innovators is to be resilient, not give up, and find out what is out there.

“We also need to earmark funding for SMEs to take on an innovation expert. And promoting success stories is really important.”

Success stories and sustainability      

The Green Tech Conference 2023 was packed with success stories.

From SaaS platform Enerlytic which provides key insights into energy data, to clean tech specialist Heatio and their next generation of home energy management system.

We heard how Dr Somayeh Taheri was inspired by fuel poverty to create UrbanChain a peer-to-peer energy exchange which is helping to democratise the marketplace.

And Farm Urban whose MD Paul Myers set out his vision for transforming disused parts of a city into an oasis through vertical farming.

(Link to Chris Maguire’s piece)

Shayne Wilson, Pilot Group EMS, spoke of being a ‘de facto energy manager’ as he helped a company identify a £250,000 electricity spend at a closed site.

While Helen Boothman, MD at Evergreen Energy took on the topic of domestic air source heat pumps dispelling the myth that ‘they don’t work in colder climates’ by pointing out they’re big in Scandinavia.

This sparked an ongoing debate around heat pumps for commercial use with many experts agreeing it should be ‘fabric first every time’.

Elsewhere, commercial property developer Bruntwood is on a mission to do their bit by creating more sustainable cities.

Director of Sustainability Alex Edwards called for new policy and a new mindset as the built environment represents 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions.

“We have got to start building to net zero standards now” he said.

“There are too many buildings going up that are going to need some kind of retrofit.”

Instead, Bruntwood are creating a ‘blueprint for low carbon workspaces’ with The EV0 building in West Didsbury.

Interestingly solar panels will be the main energy source, and any additional power will be generated from their cooperative wind farm.

Still, for the industry to go net zero it is dependent on the decarbonising of the concrete and steel industries, potentially through green hydrogen.

Elsewhere, Electricity North West is contributing to the region though large-scale infrastructure investment.

Mike Taylor, Electricity Distribution Network Owner, said their next big focus is flexibility of the network, making it work harder at night, and implementing a technology system which better manages the volts.”

Summing up the Green Tech Conference Sam Booth CEO of pro-manchester thanked all the speakers and sponsors for an insightful day.

She added: “We received great support from the green businesses in making this event happen, so it is a fantastic opportunity to profile them and to help others on their journey to net zero.”