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New MISC chair Prof. John Loughhead on MI’s achievements and priorities

In June 2019, Prof. John Loughhead succeeded Frank Des Rosiers as Chair of the Mission Innovation Steering Committee (MISC). Prof. Loughhead is a well-known energy expert and currently Chief Scientific Adviser at the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). He was involved in the discussions which led to the creation of MI in 2015, has been an active representative of the UK since MI’s launch and has also served as MISC Vice Chair.

The MISC provides high-level strategic guidance to foster implementation of the Enabling Framework and the Action Plan and oversees the work of the MI Secretariat and the Sub-Groups. Prof. Loughhead will be supported by the Vice Chairs Renu Swarup of India and Robert Andrén of Sweden.

Regarding his new role as Chair, John says: “I am very pleased to take over the role as MISC Chair and intend to work closely with all members. I feel that the development of the MISC has been vital in ensuring balanced engagement from members and is a powerful mechanism to enable joint priorities to be identified through discussion. The MISC is well equipped to lead this important phase of MI as we explore options for the continuation of MI beyond 2020.”

I talked to John about MI’s achievements and priorities and spoke about short and long term trends in the clean energy field. In his view, MI’s biggest achievement has been to provide an effective structure in which members have been able to exchange experiences, discuss technical and policy challenges and solutions, and increase dialogue between different stakeholders. MI has provided a vehicle for the innovation community to engage as a single voice with institutions such as the United Nations, World Economic Forum, and World Energy Council. Dialogue with financiers, including the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, is leading to better understanding amongst members of what investors are looking for and amongst financiers of the priorities and structures of public financing. The recently announced Breakthrough Energy Solutions Canada (BESC) and Breakthrough Energy Ventures Europe (BEV-E) funds are examples of collaboration between the public and private sector stimulated by MI.

Furthermore, MI has been able to move from its initial goal of members doubling their clean energy innovation funding over 5 years, to more specific objectives and now focusses on key challenges and targets with the aim of increasing the impact of member’s investment. So far, members are on track to meet their doubling commitment and many, like the UK, have explicit budgetary plans to meet the 2020 target. MI’s role to encourage public investment in clean energy innovation is clear but it has also taken on the challenge of stimulating private investment. John highlighted the important role for MI in increasing economic and technical intelligence amongst investors, leading to increased confidence in the sector.

In his view, the greatest benefits of participating in MI are the insight into the priorities and approaches of other members and the opportunity to discuss strategies in a cooperative environment, for example through the Innovation Challenge activities. MI should be able to add value to activities that members are already undertaking and to enable collaborations between individual members and initiatives that otherwise would not have happened. The UK/Canada Power Forward Challenge on innovative smart energy systems is an example of such collaboration.

At the end of the interview, John revealed his personal opinion about future trends in delivering affordable and reliable clean energy. International political will is crucial to the transition. Assuming it is there, we then will continue to see a real effort to develop new materials and processes. The transformational change will manifest itself in completely new ways of designing systems. It will be important to bring climate impact into the economic structure of services to provide impetus for clean technologies to be exploited. There is no silver bullet, we will need to use all available technologies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and develop a more intelligent and smart energy system including appropriate storage capacity in various forms.

Solar energy will become even more significant not only for electricity generation but also for industrial processes and materials. The technology for the generation of electricity from solar is in place and mature but there is a lack of new means to convert photon energy into different forms of deployable energy. In the medium term, it should be possible to convert sunlight directly into hydrogen and to use sunlight for processes that are currently chemically engineered.

A so far rather neglected area is energy efficiency. New concepts to produce, use and convert energy more efficiently are urgently needed. The Global Cooling Prize, an initiative of the Rocky Mountain Institute, the Government of India and MI, has been set up to incentivize the development of a residential cooling solution that will have at least five times less climate impact than today’s standard Room Air Conditioner units. A total of 445 applications were received and finalists will be announced in November this year. The solution is unlikely to be an incremental improvement on the conventional, but a radical approach to cooling.

The Secretariat wishes John all the best for his new role as MISC Chair, success in intensifying the highlighted collaboration activities and for the work on developing options for MI beyond 2020.

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