Green Tech Symposium Learnings: Part One

Thursday, 24th October 2019

Blog by pro-manchester comms manager, Mel Hill

Last week, leaders in our region’s Green Tech sector descended on Squire Patton Boggs, not only for their exceptional cookies, but also to learn about businesses disrupting the green sector.

Here’s the first instalment of our learnings from a hugely insightful day.

Vijay Natarajan is Founder of QBots, a company aiming to reduce our energy bills by utilising local energy sources. “There is no incentive for your energy supplier to reduce your bills,” says Vijay. “We are looking at bringing together commercial buildings using smart technology to integrate locally.

“One thing that’s shocked us is that, on average, 41% of your energy bill is the cost of energy. The rest is profit and tax imposed by the government.”

“Science doesn’t work by itself,” says Amer Gaffar, Director – Manchester Fuel Cell Innovation. “At MMU we have a great business facility, where we have PHD students looking at future prices of fuel cell energy and repercussions of when the government inevitably taxes this form of energy too.

“This collaboration is key to de-carbonising in our city. As a university we have great communication between departments. In a booming city like Manchester, where we as businesses collectively have a massive target to be carbon neutral by 2038, I believe this is how we’ll get there.”

As Mayor Andy Burnham continues to push his desire for Greater Manchester to be the UK’s first carbon-neutral region by 2038 – 12 years ahead of the rest of the UK, MMU has spent £2.5m on equipment which looks at analytical properties of a fuel cell. Together, they are working with TfGM and GMCA to create a strategy that meet’s the Mayor’s target.

Our Transport panel, which discussed whether tech is making our transport greener consisted of Justin Moss – Siemens Mobility; Helen Boyle – Electricity North West; Jim Shaw – Bloom3 and Tracy Barr.

Continuing on from Amer’s fuel cell technology discussion earlier in the day, Justin Moss said: “People are more noticeably looking at fuel cells, hydrogen and battery powered vehicles. It is the main wave helping us with the goal to have low-carbon railways. In the UK 45% of trains are electrified, but the rest of Europe is at 60%, so we are behind.

“Contrary to belief, there are no constraints on the network and there is plenty of headroom for more electric vehicles,” said Helen Boyle – Electricity North West. “We work with TfGM and National Rail around electrification. By 2050 it is forecast that demand for electricity is set to double with new technology.

“There are no challenges for us here, and there is plenty of capacity in the network. We promise, if we connect all the planned electric vehicles set to take to our roads, the lights will not go out! We’ve created headroom in the network for low-carbon transport,” stressed Helen.

Jim Shaw, formerly of Bentley Motors and the BMW Group says the goal for low-carbon footprints doesn’t solely fall to the feet of electric vehicles: “A vision for multi-modal cities are necessary. 2m-4m car sales that seat 4-5 people isn’t enough. We need to look at the wider transport infrastructure that will reduce the number of vehicles on the road. That is when we’ll see real change.

“A connected infrastructure, with electrified railways that work, are on time and trustworthy will make a huge difference.”

Tracy Barr, former Group Airlines Head of Cabin Quality for Thomas Cook Airlines says: “Sustainability has to be at the heart of the business. At Thomas Cook it was part of the culture – how can we improve this? How can we make it greener?

“The regulations have set two clear targets; they expect carbon neutral growth by 2020 and a 50% cut on emissions by 2050.

“Small tweaks and changes make such a huge difference, so businesses need to be focusing and investing in innovation. By creating lighter weight seats and reducing the weight of the refreshment trolleys on board, we saved 300kg of fuel per year, which is an insane amount. These small changes make a massive difference.

Other small changes, such as replacing receipts with e-receipts saved upwards of 400 trees and removing plastic straws and stirrers removed 8m pieces of plastic from the group’s carbon footprint.

“I think Manchester is in a great place to take the lead on this,” says Jim Shaw. “The city is perfect size for measuring and implementing a carbon-neutral region. It’s a really exciting time for green tech right now and one that Manchester is set to be at the forefront on if businesses continue to collaborate.”

Wardell Armstrong, Manchester-based environmental consultants have been working on an impressive research project that shows some staggering effects that pollution is having on our city.

Mark Knight, Associate Director’s keynote delivered some harrowing facts. Pollution is responsible for three million deaths per year, with 5% of these accounting for young adult mortality.

“Pollution is humankind’s biggest threat,” says Mark Knight. “It accounts for 40,000 early deaths in Greater Manchester alone and we’re starting to put a plan together to make a drastic change.

“Diesel and petrol cars are planned to be phased out by 2040, but what can be achieved in the meantime? We have been looking for innovative solutions that combat air pollution, which is cost effective, accessible and can be rolled out immediately.”

Possible solutions which have showed strong results thus far include:

  • Ivy Green Screens
  • Green Walls
  • Moss Walls
  • Green Roofs
  • Street Trees
  • Evergreen Hedges

“Silver birch trees planted by a busy road also reduced pollution levels in nearby houses by more than 50%. Diesel exhaust particles are trapped by the microscopic hairs on the leaves, which rain then washes away – this is the only time rain in Manchester is useful,” joked Mark. “Planting silver birch trees could save 29,000 annual air pollution deaths.”

A fascinating event, for which we will have part two on our blog next week. Stay tuned!