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Lessons Learnt Jonathan Wills, Chief Executive Officer

24 October 2018

Jonathan Wills
Jonathan Wills Chief Executive Officer

At the end of 2019, the ETI will close its doors. By this time we will have spent 12 years building a £400m low carbon innovation project portfolio delivering whole energy system modelling and analysis alongside the practical delivery of over 150 complex energy innovation projects.

As our operation draws to a close we felt that it was important to reflect on our journey, analyse learnings from our operation and examine how our experience can help inform future large-scale innovation activity in the UK.

We feel this is important because of the structure of our organisation. We were a first of its kind public-private partnership operating in the world of low carbon energy. Subsequent innovation based models which feature joint government and industry funding have followed but we are a true 50:50 funding partnership. This bought with it governance structures and operating processes that are worth exploring. In a way the ETI was an experiment and this exercise allows us to review the success of the operating model. It is not a report on the overall impact of the ETI.

We have also operated against a changing landscape over these last 12 years, both from a political standpoint – operating under three different governments, five secretaries of state and nine energy ministers - alongside an economic environment which featured the global financial crisis and the subsequent recessionary period. We have sought to analyse how our structure helped us to navigate these changes.

Back in 2012 we undertook an independent mid-term review of our operation and used the results of that review to help fulfil the original partnership mandate once the decision was made in 2014 not to extend the ETI’s period of operation.

We have in the second half of our operations focused heavily on disseminating our accumulated knowledge through the publication of 50 technical insight and perspective reports, alongside the publication of over 750 project deliverable reports and modelling software into our “knowledge zone”, a dedicated section of our website allowing users to access the data behind our project portfolio.

And we still have demonstration activity in progress in the fields of waste gasification technology, consumer sentiment and engagement with electric vehicles and fuel efficiency technologies for HDVs and shipping vessels. All of this activity will complete by the middle of next year.

We now add to that technical knowledge by sharing what we have learnt from running the ETI. Our aim is simple really – to help inform the development (and successful running) of innovation bodies in the future, irrespective if they are focussed on energy or not.

Having undertaken a staff and stakeholder review with the help of Loughborough University’s School of Business and Economics to analyse people’s reflections on the ETI and its operation we have identified a series of key learnings and subsequent recommendations covering:

1) the set-up of an innovation body:
- Organisations should be as open and transparent as possible
- Their governance structure should match the size and mission of the organisation
- A broad range of skills and disciplines are needed to deliver innovation
- Knowledge should be widely shared
2) the operational phase of innovation bodies
- Focus on delivering outcomes not simply project outputs
- Organisations need to be agile and flexible
- An organisations risk appetite should be clearly communicated
3) how to maximise the legacy from the ETI itself
- There needs to be a whole energy system approach to decarbonisation
- There needs to be continued access to a broad range of skills to deliver innovation through to market adoption
- There needs to be consideration given over the operational longevity of energy innovation organisations
- The most impactful value of innovation can be unforeseen at the start
- The public sector has a key role to play in delivering innovation

When reflecting on the lifetime of the ETI and the mandate we were set, we would note that the core parameters of the low carbon transition facing the UK have remained constant and that the UK energy environment remains a complex web of needs, technologies and choices. So with the work of the ETI to accelerate the development and deployment of low carbon technologies coming to a close our whole energy system analysis work will have to be championed by others if the UK is to progress through the low carbon transition at least cost and with the greatest economic and societal benefit.

We hope some of the observations captured in these reports will help the bodies that follow us to do that effectively.

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