Innovators solve West Midlands energy system challenges

The West Midlands economy needs efficient, clean and decentralised energy systems to support its economic growth. The technology and knowledge is out there to make this happen, but it needs political will, and the space to enable collaboration. So Climate-KIC UK & Ireland teamed up with Birmingham City Council and Encraft to make that space with the West Midlands Climate Innovation Challenge

“This gets to the heart of what Climate-KIC was set up to do,” explains Tom Mitchell, Director of Climate-KIC UK & Ireland. “In order to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to act in a way that we have never seen before, at a scale that we have never seen before. So the way to do that is to support innovative companies who are going to be good for the environment and good for growth and jobs”. 

Part of the appeal to business and academia was that these challenges were real priorities for the region’s leadership, set by three of the Local Enterprise Partnerships of the West Midlands Combined Authority:

  • Integrate innovation that ‘challenges standards for low carbon cities’ into the £500m Smithfield redevelopment, helping Birmingham to become a ‘zero carbon emission city’;
  • Find a solution to help energy network operators increase their existing capacity so that their infrastructure can catch up with the manufacturing renaissance that is happening across Coventry, Warwickshire and the Black Country;
  • Design an energy system to reduce carbon emissions and energy bills for the thousands of new homes that will be built across the Black Country over the next ten years;

With three prizes of £20,000 on offer to the winning ideas, and an ongoing opportunity to work with the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, the interest throughout the business and academic communities was intense. On the day, over 25 ideas were pitched to the judges, with businesses and academics from across the UK & Ireland making useful connections. 

But there could only be three winners, and they were:

Matthew Rhodes, Managing Director of Encraft and Chair of the Judging Panel was extremely impressed by the quality of the finalists. “It was a fantastic day and really exciting to see such an interesting range of ideas, as well as the entrepreneurial passion and technical capabilities of so many of the applicants. The judges felt that almost everybody we saw could have won, and in the end the differences between the finalists and those that didn’t win this time were really very small.”

Sampson Ltd specialises in decarbonised manufacturing, which involves producing construction materials from waste, including bitumen. Founder Dr Colleen Becker told Encraft, “The West Midlands Climate Innovation Challenge was an invaluable experience both for me and for Sampson, particularly during this early-growth stage in which we are seeking opportunities to forge relationships with strategic and industrial partners.”

Coheat Managing Director, Marko Cosic, was enthused by the whole challenge. “We were obviously delighted that the judges recognised the quality and practicality of our product for cutting carbon,” he said. “But the highlight of the day for me was meeting so many forward-thinking people with such exciting ideas.” 

Smart Renewable Heat were the third winners. Their ‘heat-as-a-service’ offering is delivered through an energy services company and provides heat pumps to customers, which are monitored using smart controls to maximise their performance. Chief Executive, Karl Drage, was pleased with what his company had got out of the event. “The day was hugely productive. We made some great connections and held a lot of very useful technical conversations, which will certainly progress the advancement and deployment of our technology.”