Fostering the development and deployment of low carbon technologies: Lessons from the Carbon Trust

Mr Florian Kern, SPRU, University of Sussex 

UK policy-makers are increasingly confronting the challenge of restructuring energy systems into more sustainable forms. Technology policy seems to be at the heart of the proposed solution. Policy makers are trying to foster low carbon technologies by using a variety of dedicated policy instruments such as public R&D funding, capital grant programmes, regulation, public-private partnerships and market pull instruments such as the renewables obligation. Probably the most innovative and unique organization within this context is the Carbon Trust. It has been set up in 2001 as an independent, not-for-profit company, led by business but financed by the government. Its mission is to help businesses to cut their carbon emissions and to support the development of low carbon technologies. Is this a new, fruitful approach in technology policy after liberalization had led to a substantial decline in public and private R&D investment? By setting up the Carbon Trust as a company run ‘by businesses and ‘for businesses’ it was hoped to harness the skills, expertise and networks of the private sector more effectively and efficiently than conventional R&D or technology policy.

The main aim of this paper is to scrutinize the Carbon Trust’s activities and to discuss the experiences made with the Carbon Trust model to foster low carbon technologies. The paper will argue that this experience presents opportunities and difficulties in supporting the development and deployment of technologies. The paper is based on semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders from the Carbon Trust, government officials, researchers, businesses and environmental groups which are informed by and complemented with a literature and documentary review. The paper is based on insights from innovation and policy studies and uses Geel’s multi-level perspective on socio-technical change as a heuristic framework.


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