A number of schemes are available to help eco-innovators move out of the laboratory and into the marketplace. One such scheme is offered by Isle Utilities, a British technology and innovation consultancy. Isle Utilities acts as a kind of dating agency bringing together eco-innovative technologies and research projects, and potential investors. This is done through the Isle Utilities Technology Approval Group (TAG).
To reach the promised land of market acceptance, environmental technologies must at some point cross the valley of death. This is the chasm between research, which may produce ideas that look great on paper or in prototype, and demonstration and pre-commercial testing, during which the innovation will be rigorously examined to see if it really can make a difference to the wider world.
The valley of death is a problem for inventors, but also for politicians, who want to stimulate growth based on eco and other innovation. Fortunately, some help is at hand. A number of schemes are available to help eco-innovators move out of the laboratory and into the marketplace.
One such scheme is offered by Isle Utilities, a British technology and innovation consultancy. Isle Utilities acts as a kind of dating agency bringing together eco-innovative technologies, end users and research projects, and potential investors. This is done through the Isle Utilities Technology Approval Group (TAG).
The TAG is a group of utility companies that regularly reviews and assess the potential of new technologies identified and screened by Isle Utilities and presented by the technology companies themselves. If the utility companies like what they see, they can set up trials to demonstrate the technologies and, if that works out, start to scale them up for the broader market.
Isle Utilities mostly works with water companies and presents potential technologies that help solve the issues and challenges faced by water utilities. Louise Elliott, Isle Utilities' business development director, says that the company “searches the globe for the best technologies. We have helped to facilitate £200 million (€249 million) worth of investment into the water industry”.
Four TAG meetings to present promising technologies are held annually in each of the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia, with two further meetings per year in Singapore. Plans are being made for continental European meetings.
“The TAG model works well for everyone,” says Louise. For innovators, TAG meetings are the ideal opportunity to pitch to the water utilities that can offer them investment. Typically, there is no cost for innovators to attend the meetings.
For water companies, TAG offers an efficient way of doing what they would be doing anyway: looking for new technologies to help them improve their environmental and financial performance. New technologies help utility companies get more out of their existing infrastructure, by for example reducing leakage or improving wastewater treatment. “Companies in different regions have different priorities,” Louise says. In the UK, for example, the emphasis is on reducing leakage and on energy efficiency. In Australia, there is a great interest in desalination and water savings.
Often TAG members decide to collaborate to test a technology. Such partnerships “reduce the risk for them,” because of cost sharing, Louise says. Subsequent deals are left to the companies and innovators to sort out. Isle Utilities' role is to bring them together, not to broker agreements.
The TAG scheme started in the UK in 2005. Since then, Isle Utilities has reviewed about 2000 potential innovations, and has put forward 180 to TAG meetings. “The success rate has been high: 75% of the proposed innovations move forward to industry trials,” Louise says.
The TAG process could work alongside other schemes designed to help bring eco-innovations to market, including the European Commission's own Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) tool.
Through the ETV scheme, accredited verification bodies check claims made by new environmental technologies, for example to ensure that they are scientifically sound. ETV provides third-party approval to developers of new technologies, thus helping them promote their technology, and provide assurance to users of new technology, and thus helping it to spread.
European Commission policy officer Pierre Henry, who is in charge of the ETV scheme, says that ETV and TAG “could benefit from each other”. Louise Elliot of Isle Utilities agrees. ETV is “an additional quality stamp to increase the confidence of industry. Technologies that come out of the ETV scheme might be relevant for some of our members,” she says. Similarly, technologies identified through the TAG process could be suitable for the ETV scheme.
ETV is on the cusp of becoming operational. Five verification bodies have been selected. Between 2013 and 2015, they have a joint target of verifying a total of 100 environmental technologies. Pierre Henry says this will probably be exceeded, because further calls for proposals for additional verification bodies are planned in 2013.
There are other forums for the assessment of eco-innovative technologies. In the measurement, control and automation sector, for example, organisations that share information about the latest ideas exist in France (EXERA), the Netherlands (WIB) and the UK (Evaluation International). As the demand for eco-innovation grows it will become more important for more technologies to more quickly escape the valley of death. Such schemes are sure to face increasing demand.