As the cleantech sector strives for impactful change, Dr. Vidal Bharath(pictured) , CCO at Bramble Energy, discusses how rapid innovation strategies embraced by the likes of Apple, 

NVIDIA and Tesla could be the key to combating climate change, attracting increased funding, and driving transformative advancements.

For many of the world’s leading companies – Tesla, Intel, Google, Amazon, NVIDIA, Apple, to name a few – rapid innovation is a fundamental and essential driver of long-term success.

By embracing speed, flexibility, creativity and a few calculated risks – all while staying closely attuned to consumer feedback and market trends – these electronics businesses have all made a name for themselves, pushing the boundaries of technology. 

Innovation isn’t just something they do occasionally or as a response to market pressures; it’s deeply ingrained in their culture and operations. And rather than solely focusing on technological advancements for the sake of it, they’re known for intertwining design and innovation, understanding their consumers’ preferences – even knowing what their consumer needs before they do. This strategy of staying one step ahead with innovation ensures what they create is genuinely useful and desirable to their target audience.

It’s an approach that’s created some of the world’s most influential and successful technology companies, and is an approach I think the cleantech sector could really benefit from.

Why there is a critical need for rapid innovation in cleantech

As of now, we have huge net zero targets over our heads, with the majority of countries, regions, cities and businesses aiming for climate neutrality by 2050. The success of the cleantech sector – and the speed at which success is achieved – is paramount in achieving these targets. 

However, when we look at cleantech innovation, while there have been improvements, progress has been relatively slow and incremental, particularly in areas such as batteries and solar power. 

Despite expectations for major breakthroughs and ambitious targets sitting just 26 years away, innovations in these fields have not brought about drastic changes in technology or functionality. Instead, advancements have primarily involved enhancing existing technologies and improving collaboration between public, private, and industry sectors to make cleantech solutions more scalable and accessible. 

While scalability and accessibility are of course vital, if innovation cycles are too slow, then progress in combating climate change also becomes too slow. 

Climate change is causing rapid shifts in environmental conditions; without quick, targeted action and innovative adaptation strategies, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Granted, rapidly developing innovations for entire industries that can be adopted and adapted at speed may be somewhat trickier than working in the consumer space, but there is still lots the cleantech sector could learn from leading electronics companies.

By taking a leaf out of their book, we can not only drive much faster change in terms of climate change, but also bring greater funding investment and innovations to the table. 

Adapting agile methodologies to accelerate development

So exactly which business methodologies should the cleantech sector be adopting in order to accelerate development?

  • Continual innovation: Prioritising research, development, and deployment of climate-friendly technologies and strategies with shorter innovation cycles is crucial. Currently, however, there is a tendency for static responses, leading to slow recognition of the benefits or failures of implemented solutions. This stagnation may be influenced by circumstances and industry norms, but to counter this, fostering a culture that values continual innovation, taking calculated risks and learning from failures is essential. In a nutshell, fail fast, learn and move on. Tesla’s culture of innovation showcases this perfectly. Boldness, risk-taking, a relentless pursuit of excellence and pushing the boundaries of what is possible has seen them completely disrupt the automotive industry with its electric vehicles; a strategy it’s now expanding into energy storage solutions and solar products.
  • Ensure that expertise leads at every level: Business models play an important part in how fast companies can innovate. If a company has the correct model with expertise-leading-expertise and immersion in the details from top down, it can lead to much faster innovation. Take NVIDIA, for example. A leading company in the field of AI and GPUs, they foster a collaborative ecosystem that includes researchers, developers, and industry partners. By actively engaging with this ecosystem, they gain valuable insights into emerging AI trends, challenges, and use cases. It’s a valuable feedback loop that enables NVIDIA to iterate rapidly on their chip designs, ensuring that their products are always aligned with the evolving needs of the AI community – and is something businesses across the cleantech sector could certainly mimic. To accelerate innovation, there needs to be a bigger focus on setting up the right strategies for assembling diverse teams with complementary skill sets, and more of an effort made to foster open communication across the whole team.
  • Develop demand: Apple is a great example of a business with a long history of influencing demand and shaping consumer behaviour – just think of what the iPhone’s introduction did for the smartphone industry and the demand for mobile apps and services. In the realm of cleantech, there is real opportunity for innovation to concentrate on stimulating demand. Take green hydrogen for example – it has emerged as a key component of European sustainability and decarbonisation goals, driving innovation in electrolysers, which have the potential to revolutionise its production. Yet, despite the policy emphasis and recognition of the importance of green hydrogen, actual advancements and implementation of innovations in this field are still relatively slow. There is room here for creative solutions and advancements aimed at increasing the desire and need for green hydrogen among consumers and industries, as well as policymakers – whether it’s developing new applications for green hydrogen, improving its accessibility and affordability, or creating incentives and policies to encourage its adoption. 

While the energy industry as a whole certainly has room for improvement when it comes to speed of innovation, we are starting to see some positive shifts.

Right now innovators working on electrolysers for green hydrogen production, for example, are pushing to improve durability, scalability, operational flexibility and, crucially, reduce costs. In fact, there are lots of exciting innovations happening across manufacturing processes, material selection, system integration, and scale-up all focussed on driving down costs across the entire value chain. 

At Bramble Energy, we use the examples set by these leading electronics innovators and apply it to what we do in electrochemistry. By embracing continual innovation, an expertise-leading-expertise business model and a focus on demand-driven advancements, we’ve been able to integrate Printed Circuit Board (PCB) manufacturing techniques with AEM electrolyser technology, seeing us on our way to achieving a more compact, efficient, and cost-effective electrolyser. 

Given the pressure UK businesses are under to achieve net zero targets, the importance of finding a greener way forward has become paramount.

If we are able to lower the capital and operating costs of electrolysers enough that green hydrogen production is comparatively cheaper than fossil-based hydrogen, with continual advancements in our technology and following the ethos laid out above, we will see widespread demand follow, and grey hydrogen phased out. 

It’s a situation not unlike the iPhone’s effect on the phone manufacturing scene, which dominated the market, but also spurred a huge amount of innovation and competition, and one that I’d love to see embraced across the entire CleanTech industry.