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Measurement key to succes of green sector

Measurement technology must play a key role in helping low-carbon technologies bridge the "Valley of Death", experts say.

With the green sector growing rapidly and innovative new technologies being developed at breakneck pace, being able to independently verify performance claims is essential for a product to make the transition from the lab to the marketplace, according to panelists at an event organised by the National Physical Laboratory.

Minster for State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change Greg Barker highlighted that CBI analysis indicates that over a third of the UK’s economic growth in 2011/12 is likely to have come from green business and that the UK is the sixth biggest player in a £3.3tr global market.

But despite the success of the sector many promising low-carbon technology innovations fail to cross the so-called "Valley of Death" between a working proof of concept and a commercial product.

“Often the complexity of the technology, however ground-breaking, can mean it is unlikely to be understood more widely,” said Barker. “It can be that even the most innovative technology developed can find it hard to raise capital.

“Trust needs to be built by the generation of a track record through independent performance verification and certification that shows technology will work,” he added.

Jane Burston, head of the Centre for Carbon Measurement, says reliable performance verification is essential for green firms trying to win investors for innovative new products as there are often few defined standards. Also, technologies are evolving so quickly that traditional metrics can fail to highlight the ground-breaking properties of products.

“People can be quite sceptical of the results,” she said. “Measurement labs can help products to reassure people they do what they say on the tin.”

In the UK the need for reliable and affordable measurement services is particularly pressing due to the complexity of the funding environment, which Adam Workman at 350 Investment Partners believes means start-ups often have to find a new investment partner at each stage of development.

“The Valley of Death is a myth,” he said. “The journey from start-up to billion-dollar company is a trek across an arctic plain.”

But while performance verification is key to providing confidence to each incoming partner, Workman says the costs and complexity is too high for many firms and must be brought down if innovation in the sector is to thrive.

While defining set standards can help both firms and investors to weigh up the value of new technology, David Fatscher, head of market development for Sustainability at the British Standards Institution (BSI), says timing is key.

“If you introduce standards too early you can be accused of stifling innovation,” he said. “But clearly if standards are introduced too late what you are doing then is disrupting business models that are established.”

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