With the climate change emergency becoming more and more prominent, zero-carbon targets looming and the journey to clean growth a priority across all sectors; utilising the power of innovation in order to decarbonise has never been more critical.
This week has seen Net Zero Week (#NetZeroWeek2021) take place across the UK – a government supported initiative that sees partners promote, support and discuss the steps that our economy – and our society – must take to reach the zero-carbon target for 2050 committed to by government back in June 2019.
Acting as an information hub and a platform to spread awareness and generate discussion, Net Zero Week is an opportunity to share insight into the measures we must take to reach the UK’s zero-carbon target, having become the first major economy in the world to commit to a timeframe by which we must end any further net contribution to carbon emissions.
This comes just four months before the UK hosts this year’s headline climate awareness event; the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), set to take place later this year in Glasgow.
So – as it’s Net Zero Week – there’s no better time to reflect upon what are we doing at OxLEP to support the county’s drive, and indeed the UK drive, towards a zero-carbon future.
In response to the commitments made by government, it was back in 2019 that we were the catalyst behind the Oxfordshire Energy Strategy – working alongside partners across all sectors to set out how the county can play a vital role in getting on the front-foot in the delivery of a cleaner and more sustainable future.
Earlier this week (21 July), we announced the winners of the second tranche of the ‘Energy Pathfinders 2050 (EP:50)’ competition, created in partnership with Oxfordshire Greentech – the business network supporting the growth of the low-carbon sector in Oxfordshire.
The Pivot Power-backed Energy Superhub Oxford (ESO) and Zeta Specialist Lighting-backed Park and Charge Oxfordshire projects were deemed to be equally outstanding representations of the principles outlined in the Oxfordshire Energy Strategy, showcasing an innovative approach to cleaner power and transport infrastructure respectively.
The journey to zero-carbon is clearly gaining velocity across the county; back in June ‘Pathways to a Zero Carbon Oxfordshire’was launched – a report created by the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, alongside champions for sustainable living, Bioregional, and backed by OxLEP – setting out how the county can achieve the ambition of becoming a zero-carbon economy by 2050.
Challenging Oxfordshire’s key decision-makers to embrace new recommendations and aimed at supporting the county’s drive towards a zero-carbon future, the report showcases the significant sustainability expertise that exists in Oxfordshire, with the support of a truly world-class innovation ecosystem.
The report highlights the successful deployment of solar energy in Oxfordshire and calls for an expansion of up to 10 times current levels, also predicting that the rapid uptake of electric vehicles in the next decade will help to reduce carbon emissions.
The report also points to sectors where further progress on reducing emissions needs to be made, including energy efficiency and renewable heating in buildings and in the transport sector – highlighting the need for behavioural changes and infrastructure investment to drive uptake of active travel, shared mobility and home working.
Our priority as a Local Enterprise Partnership towards facilitating the zero-carbon agenda and supporting the conversation around the importance of decarbonisation is significant. Just last month, we announced confirmation of a new pilot scheme – working with the University of Oxford and funded by the Getting Building Fund – which saw us secure £600,000 for an innovative energy systems accelerator.
The Energy Systems Accelerator Pilot – known as Mini TESA – is set to transform Holywell House on Osney Mead in Oxford into a co-working space for up to 100 workstations, as well as being home to an ideas-exchange hub where different disciplines and organisations can develop radical thinking and champion green innovation.
Once the pilot – due for completion in August this year – has proved to be successful and further funding is secured, the pilot space will inform the final design and operational practices of a ‘full TESA’ project, bringing forward its benefits by a whole year.
The full TESA is set to be net-carbon negative and is a flagship project within the Oxfordshire Local Industrial Strategy, which will underpin UK innovation in net-zero solutions, as well as pioneering energy systems.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the low-carbon energy sector generated £1.15bn each year to the Oxfordshire economy, and whilst large innovative projects such as TESA mean big business, clearly playing a significant role in the journey to a zero-carbon future, small business and lifestyle changes should not be underestimated in the bid to innovate in order to find different ways to decarbonise.
Earlier this month, we announced that 34 businesses were set to benefit from the awarding of a total of £2.15m-worth of grants through the Business Investment Fund – again secured by OxLEP through the Getting Building Fund. Successful recipients covered a wide range of sectors, many with a clear focus on embracing green innovation and the drive to zero-carbon.
It is increasingly evident that the more we support businesses of all sizes – across all sectors – to innovate and find new approaches to sustainability, the sooner we will be able to accelerate the drive towards a zero-carbon future nationally and help to ensure the UK meets its 2050 target.
Tranche 3 of the EP:50 competition – Energy Efficiency & Demand Reduction – is now open for entries until Sunday 19 September 2021.
Pictured above: Bicester's eco-town, Elmsbrook