In the first week of March I took off on the DLR for my third successive visit to Ecobuild, the mega environmental fiesta of exhibition stands and seminars, now in its 10th year. I trekked across to London’s ExCel Centre, dreading it as usual only because it is so big, to be among more than 44,000 “sustainable environment professionals”. It was up three per cent from last year.
For me Ecobuild answers the technological “what’s possible” question and also the political “how can we make it happen” question. To me the answers to the former were great, inventive and exciting. On the second unfortunately there was little to inspire.
By way of exhibitors, you got hundreds of huge companies, excuse me, “solutions providers”, with huge and no doubt hugely expensive stands. Examples include Skanska, Balfour Beatty, Saint-Gobain, Baxi, Worcester Bosch, Mitsubishi and Travis Perkins, all pushing their green sides. But the event also makes space for a number of new “Green Shoot” companies. Most of these had much smaller stands and my favourite was HE Hydrogen which features “green hydrogen”. This means you feed in water and solar PV for electricity to get H2 out of your electrolyser. As you know, critics of H2 always stress the amount of energy required to make it, but if it’s renewable, hey, no worries. And the CEO, Dr Amit Roy, is experimenting with ambient pressure H2 storage to cut costs. Could this be a game-changer? Could this fuel all our cars? I hope so.
And amid all the roofing, plumbing, and building materials companies on the floor, it was nice to visit the Biodiversity Pavilion with its bat boxes and living roofs.
Paul King, Chief Executive, UK-Green Building Council, Ecobuild’s lead partner said: “Ecobuild has become the Crystal Palace of its day, the great exhibition where new products can be found and sold, and fortunes can be made in the name of green building.” This is a bit excessive, but not that much. And it’s nice to know that Ecobuild is expanding to other countries.
On the political side we had Ed Davey MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who took the opportunity to launch the government’s consultation on the future of the Energy Company Obligation (ECO). He also claimed to “have built a market” for energy efficiency in terms of technology and expertise. His deputy, Greg Barker MP, minister for climate change, turned up to announce a £19 million boost for the Green Deal by way of funding for six community based retrofit programmes. He also sought to reinvigorate the Green Deal, which we all know has not been a roaring success, by linking it to the new domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), due to start this spring. Actual achievements seemed thin on the ground. Let’s hope the RHI at least is a real success and helps join up technological potential with the incentives needed to make things happen!
But my feeling is that until we have the political determination to make things change, we won’t have as much progress as we need. For the Climate Week’s award which took place in parallel, Jeremy Leggatt of Solar Century won. But next time I’d like to see a politician take the award for setting up a scheme that works and has the big impact that’s needed.