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Innovation Forums to tackle the climate emergency

13 December, 2020

Innovation Forums to tackle the climate emergency

Ralitsa Hiteva

Tim Foxon

Clare Downing

Aimee K Eeles

Case study  

Ralitsa Hiteva, Timothy Foxon, Clare Downing and Aimee Eeles

Many local authorities, cities, regions and organisations are developing local energy plans as a response to the climate emergency and the UK’s Net Zero carbon target for 2050.

These local plans need to facilitate a market environment that increases consumer and business demand for low-carbon solutions and encourages sustainable private sector investment decisions. One example is the Greater Brighton Energy Plan, developed by the Greater Brighton Energy Working Group (including Brighton and Hove City Council’s Sustainability Office and Community Energy South, among others). The plan contributes to GB10Opens in a new tab, the Greater Brighton region’s ten pledges to tackle the climate emergency.

Tim Foxon and Ralitsa Hiteva from CREDS’ Digital Society theme are members of the Energy Working Group. During their research they identified a need for informal spaces where actors could experiment, learn and collaborate on innovative business models for energy services. Energy services business models are business models which create value for users through the use of energy technology, such as flexibility services. Informal innovation spaces are needed to help turn ambitious local decarbonisation agendas into a pipeline of local practical projects.

To address this need they ran an Innovation Forum; this was designed in collaboration with the working group and consisted of a half-day event where informal discussions were facilitated through a panel interview, speed presentations and group discussion. The forum brought together national and local level policymakers, energy intermediaries (e.g. the Energy Systems Catapult), digital innovators (e.g. IBM), researchers, and industry representatives from housing, parking, energy efficiency, local authorities and energy companies. The key findings of our research were presented at the Innovation Forum and explained in our CREDS innovation brief, Digital energy services: climbing the innovation ladder, and paper Beware the value gap: Creating value for users and for the system through innovation in digital energy services business models.

The success of the Innovation Forum, and innovation brief, led the Energy Working Group to include a series of Innovation Forums in their June 2020 Energy Plan. These will be led by researchers from the CREDS Digital Society theme.

The Innovation Forums are part of the ten pledges in GB10. ‘Pledge 9’ will establish an Innovation Forum to drive forward local project delivery, build partnerships and aid local capacity building and learning. It will also bring together the latest research and best practice that can be shared across the region. Further funding to run the Forums has been secured from the University of Sussex’s Economic and Social Research Council Impact Acceleration Account (ESRC IAA).

The paper (below) puts forward an Innovation Ladder approach with business models at the top of the ladder creating more value for the energy system and those at the bottom more value for users. It also identifies what climbing the Ladder involves, for example development of more complex business models, and the level of social and environmental values that stem from such business models. This analytical approach can be applied in the UK and beyond, helping meet local decarbonisation targets.

Project team

Future plans

We are planning six forums in the next 12 months working in partnership with Brighton and Hove City Council, Community Energy South and Brighton Growth Platform. The first forum took place in November 2020 and attracted 37 participants. We have identified 5 topics (such as scaling up successful pilots and developing sustainable value propositions) that local stakeholders are likely to engage with and will incorporate these into the forums.

Sources of information


Greater Brighton’s Energy and Water plans are ambitious by necessity – and necessity is the mother of invention. By bringing businesses, local government, community groups and universities together, the Innovation Forum will harness our collective intellect and insight to generate the ideas needed to grow back greener and deliver the lasting, meaningful change the plans seek. Ian McAulay, Southern Water’s CEO and Chair of the Greater Brighton Infrastructure Panel

Publication details

Hiteva, R., Foxon, T., Downing, C. and Eeles, A.K. 2020. Innovation Forums to tackle the climate emergency. Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions. Oxford, UK. CREDS case study.

Banner photo credit: Alireza Attari on Unsplash