European clean energy start-ups are brimming with new ideas but need help to get products to market faster, panellists told a Friends of Europe Café Crossfire debate in Brussels on 20 June.
The theme of innovation in the energy transition is especially pertinent after the decision of the President of the United States, Donald Trump, to pull out of the Paris agreement. This decision has provoked fears of a reduction in America’s contribution to clean energy innovation. It is therefore essential that European companies forge ahead as the new drivers of a low-carbon future.
“Increasingly, the European Union will be expected to continue to take a global lead in the debate on climate change,” said Patrick Child, European Commission Deputy Director-General for Research and Innovation, who is Chair of the Mission Innovation Steering Committee. “Engagement with the private sector is going to be important. There is no shortage of capital in Europe, but there is less appetite for risk to finance start-ups.”
As a result, financing is a bottleneck for many start-ups, which need to survive for a number of years while they develop commercially-viable products.
“We don’t bring a technology into a market, we transform a technology into a product,” said Caroline Rozain, Co-Founder of Sylfen, a start-up working on fully-integrated solutions for both storage and energy production. “The first challenge a start-up needs to overcome is to be resilient. There are ups and downs, so you have to keep moving going forward no matter what happens.”
But the range of mutually reinforcing technologies currently being developed – from digital sensors to electric cars – has sparked optimism in the industry.
“Imagine a street in New York in 1900, full of horse carriages,” said Caroline Hillegeer, Senior Vice-President of Strategy and Technology Watch at ENGIE. “By 1913, the same street was full of cars driven by internal combustion engines. So in 13 years there was a huge transformation. It’s possible. It goes very fast and that’s what we are experiencing now in the energy sector.”
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