Cambridge Cleantech – third wave of technology in Silicon Fen

07:22 Wednesday 7th January 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: We’ve all heard of Silicon Fen of course, part of Cambridgeshire, brought us major international development right here in our county. It’s been through various sectors over the years. In the ’60s and ’70s IT and telecommunications, ’80s and ’90s it was life sciences. Well now we’re hearing that the third wave has arrived, and it is cleantech. For the past three years the industry has grown rapidly, and now Cambridge is seen as the go-to place for green energy development. Martin Garrett is the CEO of Cambridge Cleantech. Martin, you’re going to have to explain first of all what comes under this bracket of cleantech.
MARTIN GARRETT: Yes, good morning Dotty and happy new year to you. I’m quite happy to do that. Our definition for cleantech covers three categories. First of all, renewable energy, so that’s new forms of energy using no or low-carbon. So that would be wind, wave, solar, tidal and so on. Then we also have a low-carbon category. Think of that as using less energy. So that could be smart building materials and metering, so that people use less energy in a building. And electric vehicles would come into that category as well. Then we also have the third category, which is environmental, and that would include recycling and water treatment.
DOTTY MCLEOD: I can appreciate that this is probably quite a hard thing to quantify, but do we have an idea of how many people are employed in this kind of sector in Cambridgeshire now?

MARTIN GARRETT: Well certainly across the UK we have the figures. It’s increasingly important for the UK economy, and there’s about 900,000 people employed across the UK. It’s about 3% of GDP, and we have about £52 billion of sales per annum across the sector. I think locally we tend to look at it in the way that you described as being the third wave of Silicon Fen.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And how important a role is Cambridgeshire playing?
MARTIN GARRETT: Well we think increasingly important. We have a vision to make the area one of the leading cleantech clusters or communities or hubs in Europe. I came back from my summer holidays, seems a long time ago now, in the middle of last year, the usual 500 emails in my inbox. Went through the boring ones, then picked out one or two interesting ones. One from PwC in Luxembourg who’d invited me to speak at a conference in Naples in Italy on cleantech, and I said well, sounds very interesting. Can you tell me why you want us to come and present. A rustling of paper in the background and then the chap said to me, oh well it says here that you’re the go-to place for cleantech in Europe. So obviously we were very delighted with that.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Yes, absolutely. So Cambridge Cleantech has been going for three years. It’s at the start of new years isn’t it where we start to think about planning for the next period of time. Where do you think Cleantech in Cambridgeshire will be three years on?
MARTIN GARRETT: Well we’ve done well so far. We’ve got well over 300 members. That’s just after a standing start. Now at the moment we provide a range of services, from access to finance to contract opportunities for our members, and coaching for start-up companies. What we’d like to do in the next twelve months to two years is to help some of those companies grow to be real international world beaters, and then also to explore the international agenda. We’ve just signed a Memorandum of Understanding with an equivalent membership organisation in China for example. So we see that international dimension as being a big opportunity, and we’d also of course like to see some big inward investors coming into the Cambridge area.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Well let’s find out more about one of the companies which comes under this heading of cleantech. They are part of a third wave of technology apparently taking Cambridgeshire by storm. Perry Carroll is the CEO and founder of the Solar Cloth Company. He joins me in the studio. Good morning Perry.
PERRY CARROLL: Good morning Dotty.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So tell me what the Solar Cloth Company does. What is your business?
PERRY CARROLL: Our business is about creating solutions using solar in a different way to the traditional slabs of glass that go on roofs. You’ll notice that there’s huge amounts of solar being put up on people’s roofs. And it’s all down to the expectation of what a customer is being offered. Where we made a difference is that we actually produce a flexible product that is on a fabric, and you can put it into all sorts of architectural shapes, or on non-load bearing roofs etcetera. So to think of applications, put it on a tent, put it in your clothing, put it on a car, put it into a marquee, all sorts of things where you would use fabric, and why not make it use the energy.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And how popular have your products been?
PERRY CARROLL: We’re at the beginning of the journey, and we’ve recently put in .. we’ve done the very first solar car ports that are made of flexible materials. So they’re up here in Cambridge as well. And we’re now expanding and doing the commercialisation, because as you can imagine, it’s taken many years of research to actually get this far. And we’re now at a stage where we’ve just crowd funded, we’ve just raised over £1 million. We’re now taking people on in all roles, whether it be administration or sales or whatever. And we’ve got a huge pipeline going forward into 2015, 2016, that we’ve now got to deliver.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And why are you based in Cambridgeshire?
PERRY CARROLL: I have to blame the previous speaker, Mr Martin Garrett.
PERRY CARROLL: We were actually developing all of this in Valencia in Spain, because the original idea was to make a solar sail for yachting. And Martin and his colleagues persuaded us to come to Cambridgeshire and actually set up and use it. Why? Well there’s a huge educational benefit being here in Cambridge, with the University, and the environment and the cluster meant it made commercial sense.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And has it paid off?
PERRY CARROLL: Yes, very much so. I’ll have to say that being in this environmental cluster, the support of Cambridge Cleantech and the support of the British public has been fantastic. I think we certainly wouldn’t have been able to do the things we want to do in any other country. And in another part of Great Britain, I can’t say we wouldn’t be able to do it, but it probably would have been a much harder journey.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Yes. That’s Perry Carroll there, the CEO and founder of the Solar Cloth Company, one of the firms who are making up this new third wave of technology in Cambridgeshire, cleantech.