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How a new approach to standards can drive low-carbon innovation

In order to fast-track innovation that could help to tackle climate change, a new scheme can provide bespoke standards to verify pioneering technologies. Marieke Beckmann from the National Physical Laboratory explains how the Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) scheme is helping smaller businesses bring smart new products to the market

In February this year, an Edinburgh-based firm became the first UK company to have a product approved under the ETV pilot scheme. Greengage Lighting Ltd (branded as AgriLamp) was verified on the performance claims of its energy efficient lighting product – the ALIS (AgriLamp Induction System) – giving the company valuable credibility as it enters the marketplace with a low-carbon innovation.

ALIS was developed specifically for use in poultry farming to provide consistent lighting conditions in a spectral band that does not have a negative impact on the birds. Traditional standards testing, however, would only have compared ALIS to non-agricultural lighting products rather than recognise its industry-specific differentiators. But by having the system verified by the ETV pilot scheme, farmers are given the confidence that they are purchasing a specially designed product that delivers high levels of functionality and energy efficiency. It’s an example of how new green technologies can be given a valuable helping hand.


Flexible standards for new technologies

Standards are a crucial cog in the innovation engine. They drive organisations to not only uphold industry best practices, but to seek ways to improve them. Standards can be used as strategic tools to display excellence in a crowded marketplace. And of course they play a crucial role for the end-user, providing reassurance that products or services are safe, reliable and good quality, and allowing comparison between suppliers. Without standards, who knows how many products or services would not have been developed, improved or, ultimately, bought?

But they can also present a barrier to new green technology. This is because traditional standards are based on consensus and consistency, which means they take time to develop and can therefore lag behind the latest innovations. New disruptive products that enter the market are not always covered by these standards, leaving them ‘uncertified’ in the minds of customers and investors.

Because of this, many green technologies that have the potential to deliver step change improvements are being put at a commercial disadvantage as a result of their innovation. This is particularly the case for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) or market entrants, who cannot rely on their existing reputation to secure confidence or market share.

It is this problem, along with the recognition that new green technologies have much to contribute when it comes to meeting increasingly stringent environmental targets, which led to the EU creating the Environmental Technology Verification scheme.

ETV was set up to create bespoke verification for innovative technologies and to act as a ‘bridge’ to traditional standards, enabling businesses or entrepreneurs to take their product to an ETV verification body and have its performance assessed independently. In the UK, the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) is one such verification body for the scheme, providing the trusted third-party validation required to promote confidence in new products, secure investment and encourage market take-up.

AgriLamp’s ALIS system is a great example of a technology that is not served by traditional standards, yet one that can deliver a real change – helping farmers to reduce their environmental impact while improving productivity. By bridging the gap through ‘tailored’ verification, ETV helps bolster customer confidence and bring such technologies to the marketplace. Under the ETV pilot scheme, NPL verified the performance of ALIS, including its light distribution and power consumption, within a framework appropriate to its intended use.

This idea is not new, and similar ETV schemes are already successfully implemented in the United States, China, Japan, Korea, Canada and the Philippines. Ongoing international dialogue on the implementation of ETV ensures that the domestic markets will be able to compete globally.


Speed is of the essence

Although standards are vital to technological advancement and innovation, we must recognise ways to accelerate the uptake of environmental technologies. It’s important that standards do not stifle innovation and commercialisation. Schemes like ETV extend the benefits of traditional standards, making them achievable for disruptive technologies and helping them get to market – and secure market share – more quickly. With greater focus than ever on tackling emissions and global warming, speeding up this process has benefits not just for the companies themselves, but for society as a whole.

The ETV pilot scheme is open for applications from companies looking to accelerate industry uptake of their green technologies. The scheme can support a range of environmental technologies, from waste water treatments to sources of renewable energy. For more information, visit www.npl.co.uk/etv