Accelerating clean energy innovation – the role of public procurement

October 3, 2017

TBB 2017 takes its cue from the European Commission (EC) in making ‘accelerating clean energy innovation’ its core theme.

It’s a crucial topic – the technological, financial, social and political elements are in place and reacting together to create a clean energy revolution. But not fast enough.

In this three-part blog series, we’ll look at some of the ways to catalyse that reaction, and how TBB can help. This is part two, focusing on the crucial role that public procurement can play.

 Private concerns

 One of the toughest milestones to reach for a young business with a clean energy innovation, is clinching that first sale.

The venture capital has come in, the lab work has been done and the prototype has proven its worth. However, there’s still significant risk in being the first customer of a new technology. How can you know it works? You can’t look to the company’s track record to assuage your fears. And, if it doesn’t work, does the company have the experience and resources to put it right? With no sales under their belts, you’d be forgiven for wondering.

You can understand the private sector hesitance. First and foremost, most CEOs are beholden to their shareholders and employees, obligated to generate profit. They may well be interested to buy the latest and greatest in cleantech, but without that track record, it’s probably one risk too many.

Public affection

The public sector by contrast, though required to be a sensible custodian of public funds, also has a wider public-good remit. This can justify a calculated decision to procure goods or services from a clean energy business that is yet to establish a track record but has great environmental potential. The

So, for example, a municipal government such as Amsterdam (handily the location for TBB 2017) might volunteer as first buyer for a new kind of smart, energy efficient street lighting system, or electric vehicle charging technology.

There’s a risk it doesn’t go to plan, in which case alternatives will have to be found. However, there’s every possibility that the municipal government will have secured a deal on a great new technology that improves the lives and environment of its citizens.

For the innovator, this gives the crucial first domino to start bringing in further deals. Suddenly businesses that have been treading water for months or years can scale quickly. The European standardisation regime  on innovative public procurement will be a key enabler here, but again it’s vital to get the correct stakeholders in the same room. Innovative companies are used to event halls stuffed with venture capital firms, but have less opportunity to interact with potential early stage public sector customers. TBB 2017 changes that, bringing together innovators, investors, industry and – vitally – exactly those public-sector stakeholders needed to get the ball moving.

This part two of a three-part series. Please also take a look at parts one and three. We will update this piece with links to the next instalments when they appear.