In October 2000, the Prime Minister announced that a new Carbon Trust was to "take the lead on low-carbon technology and innovation in this country, and put Britain in the lead internationally". The body was formally launched last March with the aim of helping business and the public sector cut CO2 emissions while developing leading-edge UK industries.
The not-for-profit company controls a significant amount of money. It will oversee £95 million from the climate change levy over the next three years, plus an annual £17 million inherited from the Energy Efficiency Best Practice Programme. It will also administer the list of technologies qualifying for enhanced capital allowances worth £70 million this year - giving it a total annual spend of nearly £120 million.
The Trust has now appointed a chief executive, Tom Delay, and a board of 17 representatives from Government, industry, trade unions and environmental organisations.
Six months after its launch the Trust's profile remains very low. Its first public statement came in September when it released a report by Imperial College on R&D priorities for moving to a low-carbon future.1
The report gives the first substantial indication of how the Trust may operate and target funding. It calls for a balance between support for technologies delivering short-term improvements and more strategic "thematic priorities" - technologies which are likely to be "big impact items in the long term."
In the energy sector, a lower strategic importance is given to biomass and onshore wind than photovoltaics and offshore technologies, which "would run into far more serious land and environmental impact constraints if the attempt were made to deploy them on a large scale."
The study sees energy storage systems as strategically fundamental in order to "open the gate to very wide deployment of renewable energy and a zero carbon economy" in the long term. However, such systems would not be necessary as long as renewables contribute less than 20% of electricity supplies. The report hails hydrogen production and storage as "undoubtedly the most promising option".
The report is considerably more optimistic about the potential to reduce CO2 emissions from transport than a recent study by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (ENDS Report 305, pp 19-22 ). It says that fuel cells "hold the potential for reducing transport emissions enormously in the decade after 2010," while electric vehicles and electric-petrol hybrids could achieve substantial short-term reductions.
The study also urges the Trust to support social and economic research into areas which influence technological development. This could include transport congestion management, the implications of home working and shopping, and barriers to technological change.
Overall, the authors claim, "a low carbon UK economy would be a more prosperous economy than it is today, and there is no evidence that the transition would disrupt growth prospects."
The report is informing the preparation of the Trust's corporate strategy, which has been the subject of four recent stakeholder workshops. A draft should be released for consultation towards the end of October.
However, Peter Malliburn, the Trust's head of government relations, stressed that the body will not wait until the strategy is finalised before it starts funding initiatives. "The Trust has been a long time in creation and we need to get things moving," he said. Programmes supporting strategic technologies can begin, with any changes to the corporate strategy feeding into the programme in an iterative way, he added.
The Trust is also starting work on the "reinvigoration and refocusing" of the EEBPP, which concentrates on available near-term technologies.