Climate change tech trials need better planning claims report

A report on publicly-funded low-carbon technology demos and trials has claimed that public money is too often wasted, due to inadequate public evaluation and project co-ordination.

"The justification for government-funded demonstration projects and trials is the public good," said the report's lead author, Professor Chris Hendry of City University, London. "But if the innovation process is not managed as a whole, as the US experience in wind and photovoltaics has shown, benefits from DTs and R&D will inevitably pass overseas and the public expense will have been wasted."

According to the report, titled The Uncertain Middle and published by the Advanced Institute of Management Research (AIM Research), publicly-funded demo projects and trials (Dts) are vitally important for developing low-carbon technologies in the fight against global warming. They are widely used to support innovation in energy and reduce the uncertainties of new technologies.

In the UK, for instance, there is a raft of new DT programmes to drive the development of low-carbon technologies. They are used to test technology and promote commercialisation. However, said Prof Hendry, despite the range of projects funded by the EU, there is often little systematic, public evaluation of DTs.

"When DT programmes are not systematically evaluated, their purpose of ensuring lessons are learned is undermined," he said. "Learning should be paramount. This means effective reporting as well as challenging goals. It's critical this learning is spread quickly to strengthen national industry and develop national markets."

The AIM report analyses DTs in photovoltaics and wind energy to identify lessons for DT design in relation to the overall innovation process. It argues that R&D, DTs and offline test centres need to come together to give the long-term commitment that innovation requires.

"But there needs to be a coordinated, sequential approach," warned Prof Hendry. "DTs shouldn't promote technology before it's ready or create false markets. Technology development must be taken to the commercialisation stage in a series of smooth transitions."

He noted though that it is also important to understand that innovation doesn't happen in a linear fashion. It goes through repeated cycles of development where technically-focused DTs and R&D often follow the opening of markets as second and third generation technologies come on stream and failed technology is revived.

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