A springboard for environmental technologies


The UK’s smaller companies can offer fresh insights into low-carbon technologies, but often struggle to commercialise their ideas. Shell’s Graham van’t Hoff explains how the company’s Springboard competition can help.

If there was one area of agreement between the recent party conferences, it was the significance of the green economy. Key figures across the board advocated infrastructure investment in clean technology, and praised ongoing advances in the field of renewable energy.

The government has made a series of commitments to incrementally decrease its reliance on fossil fuels, and increase the proportion of the country’s energy supply produced from carbon neutral sources. At the same time, energy demand is growing in both this country and across the globe. Meeting this demand, while simultaneously reducing CO2 emissions, is an unprecedented challenge for engineers and policy-makers alike, and is an orientating principle for all of our endeavours.

The UK is extremely well respected for its expertise in this area, and bristles with new and exciting solutions for the complex transition to a low carbon network. Many of the boldest ideas are incubated by the 5 million small and medium-sized businesses that flourish in Britain. These enterprises are often uniquely placed to offer fresh insights on addressing climate change, with their nimble structures and emphasis on creative thinking.

However, despite the strength of their proposals, SMEs can often struggle to make the leap from the drawing board to mass commercialisation, a problem exacerbated by the difficulty of attracting investment and liquidity in a fragile economy.

Scotrenewables, a previous winner of the Springboard, deployed a 250kW version of its tidal turbine device at EMEC in March 2011.

In response to these issues, we launched Shell Springboard, a nationwide search for the UK’s most promising low carbon innovation. Now in its eighth year, the programme awards £330,000 – on a ‘no strings attached’ basis – to forward-thinking and commercially viable business ideas that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2005, we have awarded over £2.25 million to 62 businesses, and are extremely proud to be able to contribute to the cutting edge of UK engineering.

Last year’s winner, Select Innovations, was awarded £40,000 for its innovative range of EnLight technologies designed to help local authorities significantly reduce the costs and carbon emissions associated with their street lighting. Since winning the competition, the company has rolled out its first installation in Norfolk where the energy consumption of street lamps has been reduced by up to 43% without needing to turn any lights out. The money awarded by Shell Springboard has also enabled them to finalise development of their larger power unit which will make even bigger energy savings on major highways and motorways.

It is, of course, uniquely satisfying when past winners go on to achieve bigger and better things. Scotrenewables is an excellent example; the Orkney-based company won the regional and national prize in 2006 for their free-floating, rotor-based, tidal current energy converter, developed to improve the efficiency of both the extraction and installation process. Tidal energy is inherently difficult to access, with many generator technologies being site specific. This is not a problem for the firm’s SRTT (Scotrenewables Tidal Turbine). It is adaptable so can suit any site conditions and scale of resource. This maximises the number of potential sites where the technology can be deployed. The UK has a significant tidal stream resource, which represents around half of the European resource and between 10-15% of the known global.

In the intervening period, Scotrenewables have constructed and tested a 250kW prototype, 100 tonnes in weight and 33 metres in length. In March 2011, the SR250 was successfully connected to the national grid at the European Marine Energy Centre, and is now engaged in a 2 year testing period, with a view to an eventual commercial roll-out. Scaling up their cutting edge engineering insight will drive further innovation in the field, and contribute to the all important reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

If you are a UK based SME (according to the European definition), that has been in business for at least 3 months, and are inspired to take up the challenge, we encourage you to apply for the 2013 Shell Springboard awards.

To apply, please visit www.shellspringboard.orgbefore 5pm on Friday, 18th January 2013.

Graham van’t Hoff is chairman of Shell UK and executive vice-president of CO2 and alternative energies