07 august, 2012
Around 100 people attended last month’s CleanTech meeting on clean and green technologies in Luxembourg. The Minister of the Economy and Foreign Trade, Etienne Schneider, delivered a keynote address entitled “Clean-tech, a driver for Sustainable Growth” and outlined how this sector is very much part of the government’s plans for economic diversification.
Minister Schneider announced the government’s priorities in this emerging sector; primarily energy efficiency (i.e. renewable energy) and eco-buildings (green buildings). The event also saw the publication of the government’s strategic background paper on Clean and Green Technologies.
Patrizia Luchetta, responsible for the CleanTech initiative at the Ministry of the Economy and Foreign Trade, explained that CleanTech is a very complex area; one the one hand it is linked with innovation, but this can be a slow process because of adoption issues; on the other hand, there can be so many different projects that can be classified as CleanTech, e.g. cycle lanes in a city-centre can contribute as much as R&D centres, but in a complimentary way.
One aim should be to link energy policy with economic diversification policy, but this is not always easy to implement in small-size country such as Luxembourg. E.g. solar energy remains promising, yet the cost-benefit ratio of solar-derived energy is quite inefficient when compared to other energy sources. It is necessary to adopt research results to link up with energy policy, but the question remains: how to be as energy efficient as possible at a national level.
Another way of looking at CleanTech is from a consumer’s perspective, regarding habitation; if housing becomes energy efficient then the whole country benefits. The government would also like to help companies to become more energy efficient too.
With regard to research priorities, the focus will be on rational use of natural resources – an encompassing area which stretches beyond energy sources to include for instance mobility respectively automotive companies which develop components to make cars more efficient. R&D activities here, under the auspices of the Fonds National de Recherche and the Ministry of Research, are looking into what can be the technologies of the future; this broader field links in with the materials science sector too, which in turn provides a bridge between CleanTech and BioTech.
A research call in the field of sustainable or green buildings could be one way of stimulating momentum in this area, with Perl grants for research available to recruit experts in public research centres for up to five years.
The private sector, through the voices of various associations, has also expressed interest in setting up a national council for sustainable buildings. But this raises the question of what is the definition of a sustainable building, and how recyclable are the materials used? The entire supply chain needs to be examined carefully in order to answer such questions effectively.
Minister Schneider said that Luxembourg’s economy goes beyond mere compliance with our commitments at international level in the field of environmental and energy goals and that Luxembourg’s companies can proactively use environmental awareness to strengthen their competitiveness and strategically position themselves on world markets.
Retrospectively, the Eco-Innovation Cluster initiative aims at gathering relevant economic and scientific actors in the CleanTech field to identify and implement concrete actions in favour of Luxembourg companies. Thanks to the support scheme for investments into the protection of the environment and to the R&D grants, CleanTech investments amounted to €286 million between 2009-2011.
Looking forward, two priority areas have been defined:
With Innovative Materials, the approach includes, among others, leveraging existing efforts and recent R&D investments in biomedical systems biology to apply them to eco-systems biology – this should allow us to establish a centre of expertise in innovative materials and bio-based renewable resources and to link bio-tech and clean-tech in a holistic approach. Going forward, the aim is to leverage existing research efforts, with an emphasis on launching state-of-the-art programmes.
Concerning the second priority, the aim of the Rational Use of Natural Resources is to leverage existing research efforts, both public and private, as well as industrial activities across various sectors: biomass conversion to energy by gasification and combustion technologies; sustainable mobility in general; energy storage and smart grid solutions; and small-scale production units for energy generation.
The Minister stressed the importance of cross-fertilisation between the two areas. For example, biomass constitutes both a source of renewable energy and a feedstock for new materials; also, the construction sector has material science and energy efficiency closely intertwined.
Firstly, the Luxembourg government wants to attract actors in the CleanTech field to set up base or start their activities in Luxembourg. Secondly, the government will continue to actively support the development of Luxembourg’s existing companies and encourage their export activities by putting Luxembourg on the map of clean technologies and facilitate the penetration of products and services into international markets. Thirdly, feed-in tariffs as well as R&D grants will support aid schemes for environmental protection measures and the rational use of natural resources. Fourth, the government is committed to maintaining a favourable business environment by keeping VAT rates, corporate tax and labour costs at competitive levels; the IP scheme which provides 80% tax exemption on certain IP-related income has proven to be very effective in encouraging R&D activities here.
NEOBUILD aims at creating a pole of excellence and innovation which will strengthen the Luxembourg construction sector by developing its capacity to respond to the challenges of sustainable construction. Within the next 3 to 5 years, NEOBUILD aims at creating a favourable environment for innovation, geared specifically towards SMEs, The initiative also aims at promoting the use of ICT tools within the context of green ICT to promote automation of commercial/industrial building (smart buildings).
The LEARNING FACTORY forsees a model factory consisting in a real production system with a production line, an assembly line, operators and a back office, etc. through hands-on experience the participants will learn how to identify, understand and minimise or eliminate inefficiencies in the production process.
In addition, Minister Schneider underlined the crucial role played by the IFSB (Institut de Formation Sectoriel de Batiment) and MyEnergy in the context of the priorities addressed above and how they support the endeavours towards a more sustainable economic growth, as well as Luxinnovation.
Fostering increased activities in the CleanTech sector also requires a dedicated zone where companies can settle, cluster and access services and infrastructure; a private initiative in Kockelscheuer aims at offering such a full-service package for companies that like to set up in Luxembourg and should be open for business by 2013.
Additionally, the National Research Fund, the Ministry for Higher Education and Research and the Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade are together examining the potential to set up a research axis based on sustainable building, with a proposal due by the year end. Also, a National Green Building Council initiative is in the process of being implemented in the framework of a public-private partnership.
Clean Energy Investment
An invited guest speaker, Gregory Kats, also addressed the CleanTech event. He holds the position of President at Capital E (cap-e.com) which provides greening and clean energy strategy, finance and development advisory services, investing in early stage CleanTech firms and working with large cities to design and finance accelerated greening strategies. Apart from various other achievements and positions, he is a founder of ACORE, the American Council on Renewable Energy, and is also a founder of the country’s first green bank, New Resource Bank. He is also the author of Greening Our Built World: Costs, Benefits and Strategies. Due to his work with VC funds, he has also been described as a multi-million dollar global clean energy investor.