Ambitious plans to make Herts a leader in green technology
PUBLISHED: 12:47 27 June 2017 | UPDATED: 07:46 13 July 2017
All contents of this DAM copyright © University of Hertfordshire
With World Environment Day this month, Keri Jordan looks at what Hertfordshire is doing to help create sustainable technologies and a cleaner planet
As Hertfordshire’s population exceeds 1.1m and growing, a move towards sustainable living in the county is becoming ever more important. With World Environment Day on June 5 – the United Nations’ foremost event for raising awareness of the importance of protecting the planet and its natural resources – it’s a good time to evaluate where the county stands.
Since the UN initiative began in 1974, the key aim has been to drive change by encouraging people to live more sustainably. A core focus in recent years has been the development and take-up of green technologies – a continually evolving range of practices, products and innovations being created to help reduce our environmental impact. The UK government is supporting development in this area through legislation, research and education as a fundamental part of its target to achieve a 20 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020.
There are a wealth of sustainable initiatives being implemented, from harnessing power from the sun and wind to generate clean energy to promoting more sustainable methods of transportation, and constructing homes and buildings in an environmentally sensitive way.
At a local level, St Albans City and District Council is working with a group of key organisations to accelerate the development of these ideas along with other green technologies. In conjunction with built environment consultancy Building Research Establishment, the University of Hertfordshire, Oaklands College in St Albans and agritech specialists Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, the council has formed the Green Triangle partnership, dedicated to supporting the growth of green industries not only in the district, but across the county.
‘We have brought world-renowned key players in green technology together to help develop the enviro-tech sector locally,’ said Julian Daly, leader of St Albans council and Green Triangle chairman. ‘We want to develop a cluster of world leading environmental research, engineering, science and technology businesses based in Hertfordshire. Our aim is to make Hertfordshire a globally recognised centre of excellence for green technology.’
‘Our partners all have strong areas of expertise in sustainability,’ adds Tara Clark, Green Triangle business development manager. ‘For example, sustainable construction is a key focus area for us. Working with BRE, we are looking to support and encourage developers in creating new building materials and smart systems to make our homes and commercial buildings more sustainable.’
Rothamsted Research has already set up a unique hub focused on promoting innovation through collaborative partnerships with commercial agricultural technology businesses. The centre opens up the research process by providing businesses access to world-class facilities and researchers, as well as laboratories, offices and meeting space.
Sajid Javid, secretary of state for communities and local government, visited the centre in March to learn more about the project. ‘It was great to hear about how the Green Triangle initiative is helping drive local economic growth in St Albans. The project plays a key role in bringing new businesses, investment and jobs to the local area,’ he said.
Building Research Establishment is testing a number of emerging green technologies on its flagship Innovation Park at the company’s head office site in Bricket Wood just north of Watford. All the buildings on the park have been constructed to meet and exceed strict energy efficiency standards, from the materials they are made of to the systems that manage their operation and maintenance. Technologies currently showcased include photovoltaic solar glass, ceiling tiles that absorb and release heat, season-adaptable window blind insulation, triple-glazed windows with magnetron-coating and warm edge technology with argon gas, insulated panels enabling a roof to be erected in less than three hours, low energy light bulbs that offer around 50,000 hours of illumination and up to 80 per cent energy savings, and bio-renewable carpet made of corn and sugar.
Rothamsted Research is also involved in a range of innovative green technology research, encompassing areas such as food security and the circular economy. Current projects include combining genetic and metabolic engineering to produce seeds incorporating specific fish oils to help farmers achieve better health and environmental benefits, an air sampling device to help protect humans, animals and the environment against crop diseases, and a sensor to control agricultural irrigation systems to enable accurate moisture measurement of soil and reduce water wastage.
The University of Hertfordshire has a dedicated Sustainable Energy Technology Research Group working on conventional and renewable energy projects. Its key objective is to design a range of technologies to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Students are involved in several international collaborations encompassing key areas of growth in the sustainability arena such as fuel cell design, wind energy technology/energy harvesting, sustainable transportation and designing for sustainability.
Both the university and Oaklands College offer a range of courses in environmental disciplines, including an MSc in sustainable planning and transport, and a BSc (Hons) in environmental management with agriculture. The latter incorporates optional study areas in biological conservation and the green economy.
‘Working with the University of Hertfordshire and Oaklands College enables us to feed into research programmes as well as providing skills and training opportunities for the green tech pioneers of tomorrow,’ explained Tara.
Traditionally, the higher financial cost of making green choices has been one of the main barriers to take-up. For example, the initial outlay for equipment that uses clean energy such as solar and wind can be more expensive than systems that use fossil fuel. Renewable technologies, however, generally cost less to operate and maintain over their lifetime, and the energy savings achieved also go some way to balancing out the figures.
Financial incentives offered by the government have helped make renewable energy solutions more accessible and attractive to homeowners. The government and green tech manufacturers have also provided clarification and reassurance regarding functionality of the systems – another area of concern for consumers who may fear the path less travelled.
Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership has been instrumental in gaining government approval for a multi-site Enviro-Tech Enterprise Zone, an ambitious and far-reaching green-tech project not just for the county but potentially the East of England. The zone, which went live on April 1, is expected to deliver more than 8,000 new jobs, 800 new businesses and an uplift in land values of £120m.
It will offer a range of government incentives to attract new green technology businesses and investment to the area with a focus on enviro-tech. The project aims to attract renewable energy experts and other green technology businesses and provide incubation space for new green technology start-ups.
Hertfordshire LEP led a partnership team including the county council, St Albans local authority and Dacorum Borough Council to bid successfully for the zone. It covers the Rothamsted Research and BRE sites, while planning permission for development of Maylands Business Park in Hemel Hempstead is in place and a further Crown Land site has been earmarked on Green Belt near St Albans.
Local growth minister Andrew Percy said the zone will create ‘a world-class hub for businesses developing technology for a greener future.’
This is a truly exciting project and we look forward to seeing the many benefits it will bring as it puts Hertfordshire on the map for environmental technology,’ said Mark Bretton, chairman of both the Herts LEP and Enterprise Zone Board. ‘In line with our strategic economic plan the zone aims to develop green technology enterprise in the area, attract and retain skills and talent in environmental research and secure international private sector inward investment.’
The LEP has also successfully submitted a joint bid for a ‘vital energy study’ aimed at further strengthening the zone’s green credentials by supporting the county’s transition to a low carbon future. The LEP in partnership with the East of England’s three other LEPs is feeding into the government’s science and innovation audit to influence future policy and funding for key sector areas including agri-tech, life sciences, ICT and advanced manufacturing in the region.
Herts’ green statistics
Hertfordshire is the most densely populated non-metropolitan area in England. Population has risen by 11.6 per cent since 2001 and is growing faster than the national average.
The county was ranked the third best place to live in the UK according to a recent uSwitch survey.
It’s the fifth busiest county in the UK for traffic – mainly because of the M25, M1 and M11 motorways.
According to 2014/15 statistics, the county is getting better at recycling and composting and is ranked 13 out of 32 waste disposal authorities.
Progress is being made on reducing CO2 emissions – six Herts districts have lower emissions than the East of England average.
Source: Hertfordshire Matters 2016, Hertfordshire Community Foundation
Eco case study
With more people buying eco-friendly products, they are becoming more affordable. Moreover, advances in technology have streamlined the design of some green products, which is also helping boost take-up.
Paul Hayes Griffin, owner of Welwyn GC’s Bike Electric, discovered the benefits of electric bikes two years ago, but found that the lack of modern styles and a limited range was discouraging potential consumers. As technology has moved on, the design of e-bikes have become more streamlined and Paul now sells a broad range of models to fit every size, shape and budget.
‘E-Bikes are no longer bulky and ugly. Today’s models are sleek and stylish with the battery often securely hidden away,’ explains Paul. ‘With the volume of traffic on the roads and the cost of commuting continuing to rise, e-bikes are a great way to get around. Also, a number of companies are offering Cycle to Work schemes for staff so it is possible to acquire an e-bike at greatly reduced cost and spread payment over the year.’