On 17th September, we attended the Festival of Sustainable Business in Bristol, held across various venues by The Future Economy Network.
There were a number of seminars, each spanning a morning or afternoon; including discussions on Circular Economy & Behavioural Change, Smart Cities and The Future of Energy to name a few. We went to ‘Innovation in the Decarbonisation of Heat’, held at Smith & Williamson’s offices in the morning and attended the Exhibition / Lightning Talks stage in the afternoon. This was followed in the evening with a lovely three-course gala dinner at The Bristol Hotel.
‘Innovation in the Decarbonisation of Heat’ was a real eye-opener with regards to technology already available to create near carbon-free heat for households and other buildings nationwide.
Paul Barker of Bristol City Council explained the benefits and challenges of a low-carbon heat network and went into some detail about their development of this system. This is already underway, albeit with a very long way to go both financially and logistically being rolled out across this city.
This was followed by Kensa, Wilmott Dixon and Pivot-Power made up of engineer, contractor and energy technology provider respectively. Each took the floor, describing their work and interestingly the joined-up approach they have taken in creating heat-pump systems in real-life case-studies. The systems not only extract heat from the ground but cool and store unused heat in cooling systems in residential developments.
Subsidies such as RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) which have made real-life examples possible, are propping up such innovation and are currently the best chance to attract private developers.
With the central government distracted by you know what, Bristol City Council has turned to private investors to get their plans underway - not without controversy (there was a small demonstration outside the exhibition on the day in protest to this very issue).
Our main takeaways from the talks and the panel Q&A at the end of the session were that lack of technology is not so much the issue, but the commercial viability, people and red-tape stinting innovation.
Nonetheless, it was encouraging to see that there is literally ground-breaking work being done in this area and a real determination to make things happen, with or without the support of Westminster.
The festival tickets came with a meal voucher which could be exchanged at a number of food stalls in Millenium Square, the food was sustainably sourced and we enjoyed some lunch from a taco van (I forget the name!).
We then explored the exhibition at We The Curious, full of stalls from a number of local and national businesses and institutions pertaining to a sustainable future. This was a perfect opportunity to network and we had some great conversations - a number we need to follow up on!
We also managed to catch a couple of talks at the Lightning Talk Stage, hosting a range of businesses with 10-minute elevator pitches.
The gala dinner concluded the festival at The Bristol Hotel in the evening. It began with a drinks reception before being everyone being ushered through to the main event.
Again, we enjoyed some sustainably sourced food with talks and entertainment between courses.
With a kick-off talk from the Director of The Future Economy Group, followed by a member of the council and MP Rt Hon Sir Edward Davey, as well as a green poet, it was perhaps environmentalist Natalie Fee, who had the most to say. Mixing a blend of optimism and stark reality, her words seemed to leave everyone in the room with the gravitas of what lies ahead of us all. There were a number of stats and facts which brought the room to an almost uncomfortable silence and reinforced the reasons why we were all there.
We had a fantastic day, full of insight, ideas, conversation, new contacts, great food and entertainment. If anything we wish we had more presence to attend more of the seminars, but there’s always next year. Well done to the Future Economy Network for putting on a great and necessary event and I hope to see the festival grow with others getting more involved in the global challenge we all need to be a part of solving.
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