“A powerful new element in the UK economy”

<b>David Bott</b>
David Bott

The day after announcing the UK’s new Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult centre, David Bott, Director of Innovation Programmes at the Technology Strategy Board, was in ebullient mood. His announcement came as many in the UK renewables community had become disillusioned with the Coalition government’s promise to be “the greenest government ever”.

S&WE: What is the Technology Strategy Board?
David Bott: It is the UK’s innovation agency. Our goal is to accelerate economic growth by stimulating and supporting business-led innovation.

S&WE: And what is this new catapult centre?
Bott: The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult centre is to be an innovation and technology centre run by a consortium that includes the Carbon Trust, the National Renewable Energy Centre (Narec), and Ocean Energy Innovation. The new Catapult will focus on technologies applicable to offshore wind, tidal and wave power.
Ocean Energy Innovation is a new group that includes SSE, Scottish Power Renewables, Energy Technology Partnership, the Advanced Manufacturing Institute (Sheffield), the Scottish European Green Energy Centre, the European Marine Energy Centre, Scottish Renewables, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. So we are very happy to have so many leading organizations involved.

S&WE: How do you feel how about the new offshore centre? And what does the word “catapult” signify? The dictionary defines it as “a forked stick with elastic for shooting small stones” or an “ancient type of military machine for hurling large stones”.
Bott: The energy community has been lobbying for this sort of innovation centre for years so I feel proud - but tired. Our goal is to help businesses develop relevant and exciting ideas in receptive and invigorating environments. And in regard to definition, in your terms, we are hurling large stones. But we prefer to view “catapult” as a verb: “to thrust forward or move quickly”. So we want to capture the force of the catapult and our “catapult” concept is not limited to the new offshore renewable energy centre. We have announced five “centres of excellence”, designed to bridge the gap between business, academia, research and government.

S&WE: What are the other centres?
Bott: Two of these were introduced earlier: the High Value Manufacturing centre and the Cell Therapy centre. At least two remain to come: a Satellite Applications centre and a Connected Digital Economy centre. The TSB will oversee all the Catapult centres. They will form a network, as envisioned by the Prime Minister. As we see plenty of overlap, we want integration and convergence. The centres will all be tied together through their funding model. I see all of these centres as a powerful new element in the UK economy.

S&WE: What about timing?
Bott: The Offshore Renewables centre is expected to open this summer and we expect the entire network to be operational in 2013.

S&WE: Given the frequent criticism of the UK government for failing to promote renewables, the £ 10 million a year to be devoted to the new Offshore Renewables centre for five years sounds good. But is it enough?
Bott: The £ 10 million per year is “core funding”. We expect the centres to raise the equivalent in EU or national funding – as well as an equivalent amount from private companies.
The High Value Manufacturing centre, launched in October 2011, is already “on track” to get £1 0 million in co-funding in the first year. But I expect the funding to come in at different rates for different centres. For example, cell therapy is a more nascent technology, so it will have a slower funding stream.

S&WE: Will you be building new facilities, including labs and tests sites?
Bott: We don’t do bricks and mortar. We will rent a building in Glasgow as our headquarters and we can easily find a building near Narec in Northumberland. We would only consider labs in the case of our Cell Therapy Catapult centre.

S&WE: How will this catapult programme benefit the UK in relation to other countries?
Bott: Of course, we are competing with other countries – we have an international battleground. In fact, these catapult centres resulted from a report from Dr Hermann Hauser CBE, the Austria-born entrepreneur and venture capitalist. He cited the benefits of innovation and technology centres such the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft in Germany, ITRI in Taiwan, ETRI in South Korea, and TNO in The Netherlands.
In regard to offshore renewables, we are uniquely gifted with a rough coastline, ideal for marine energy. And we know our seabed. What we need is innovation, which lies at the heart of the each Catapult centre, as it is paramount to improving the UK’s competitive advantage and it is also vital for growth, as a springboard to the high value global markets of tomorrow.

S&WE: How does your centre relate to the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC)?
Bott: DECC is contributing £ 40-50 million to offshore renewables over the current spending period. So we are a focal point for them. But the lead government department on this is the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

S&WE: Have you appointed a director?
Bott: Not yet. The consortium has some proposals for governance and we will be looking at them.

S&WE: What about green jobs?
Bott: The catapult centres will employ a few hundred people at most. We will not be creating massive numbers of green jobs as such but by our work in coordinating innovation and stimulating the supply chain, we hope to see many jobs created over time.
The global market for wind, tidal and wave is expected to exceed £ 64 billion by 2050, and I will be working hard to help ensure that the UK is in a strong position to take a significant share.

The interview was conducted by Elizabeth Block.

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