David Foxwell reflects on the value of research and development to drive technological change and create the conditions for new industries to emerge.
In his latest book*, Professor Jeffrey Sachs, University Professor at Columbia University and author of, among other books, the rightly lauded The Age of Sustainable Development, bemoans the US administration’s attitude to science and research and development.
“Basic science – such as the well-established science of climate change – is being trashed in order to promote antiscientific environmental deregulation. And the budgets of the government’s key scientific agencies and laboratories are slashed to facilitate tax cuts,” he wrote, comparing the attitude of the current administration to the post-war period and the visionary manifesto of FDR’s science advisor, Vannevar Bush, author of Science: The Endless Frontier.
Dr Sachs would like to see directed technological change used as it once was as a guiding force for progress, spurring the development of new industries and employment opportunities.
That doesn’t seem a likely policy shift right now, but it is heartening to see that whatever the government’s attitude to science and its ability to drive industrial development and create jobs, that there is at least some federally-funded research and development taking place in the right areas in the US.
This includes the National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium, the first federally funded public-private partnership focusing on research and development to accelerate the offshore wind industry in the US.
The consortium recently released a Research and Development Roadmap that established a long-term vision for innovative technology development in the US and identified priorities for establishing the industry as a leader in the clean energy sector. Having been awarded around US$18M earlier this year, the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) is leading the consortium. As NYSERDA president and chief executive Alicia Barton said, “The National Offshore Wind Consortium is a symbol for the rest of the world that the US is serious about establishing a leadership position in the rapidly growing global offshore wind industry.”
The consortium will prioritise, support and promote research and development activity that targets barriers that slow down the adoption of offshore wind and support US-based manufacturing and offshore wind supply chain and infrastructure.
Public and private partners have been enlisted to support initiatives that will focus on driving further cost reductions for offshore wind, reducing risk for investors and expanding the range of feasible project sites in each of the five US offshore regions. Board members include the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center at New York State University at Stony Brook; Carbon Trust International; National Grid; NYSERDA; Renewables Consulting Group; national laboratories as well as offshore wind developers Avangrid Renewables; Deepwater Wind; EDF Renewable Energy; EDP Renewables; Equinor; innogy; Northland Power; Ørsted; and Shell.
US$18M isn’t a huge amount of money, but building on successful European models, the consortium is engaging private sector support that it hopes will allow it to chart a path to financial self-sufficiency, so it can continue its work well beyond the initial four-year federal award period.
For an example of what can be achieved when industry and academia come together, look no further than the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult in the UK, which in July this year secured a further five-year funding package to continue the fantastic work it has done supporting technology innovation in the UK’s offshore renewable energy industry.
Over the next five years, with the help of match funding from industry, the ORE Catapult believes it can deliver on a vision to support 1,400 UK businesses, create 16,000 new jobs and contribute more than £900M to the UK economy.
This month saw the ORE Catapult identify four new areas for innovation that UK companies can explore to seize opportunities from the growing, global offshore wind sector. Following engagement with industry and academia, three new roadmaps have been added under the operations and maintenance and windfarm lifecycle area: project development; reducing ecological impact and uncertainty; and decommissioning, as well as a cross area category called enabling research.
With a UK market expected to be worth £4.9Bn (US$6.3Bn) annually by 2030, and £30Bn globally, the work ORE Catapult does is a huge business opportunity for UK companies to reap rewards domestically and in new global export markets. In the US, efforts of this type are at an early stage, but industry and workers there are also set to benefit if long-term funding can be secured.
*A New Foreign Policy: Beyond American Exceptionalism