Innovative innovation

Governments must take a fresh approach to low-carbon technology that allows “disruptive” innovation to flourish as a weapon in the fight against climate change. This was the message from David Tyfield, Lancaster University academic and co-author of a new report, “Game-changing China”, at the study’s launch on Wednesday.

Tyfield, with partners from Zhejiang and Oxford universities, studied seven examples of disruptive low-carbon innovation in China, where companies have made or are likely to make a significant contribution to emissions reduction, not through high-tech inventions but by re-thinking existing technologies, lowering their cost and taking them to a wider audience. Himin, for instance, has transformed its home town of Dezhou with low-cost solar thermal water tanks (90% of families use them).

While the study focuses on China – and the authors make the case that disruptive innovation is of particular value here – the message is a wider one. As Tyfield put it at the launch, the world is lacking a low-carbon exemplar; no country has yet made the shift to low carbon, yet all need to do it, and do it fast. The result is an urgent need to broaden our ideas about the social and technological shifts that will get us there and, says this report, to recognise as much in policy.

This raises knotty questions about state interaction with innovation. Can such a bottom-led approach really benefit from government sponsorship? And, as one audience member put it at the report’s launch, if there is “need, demand and creativity, won’t it happen anyway?” The authors’ response is that, unfortunately, we don’t have the time to wait and see.

Read a summary of “Game-changing China” here.