What has been the most significant technological development of recent years?
In use today, the iPhone. Apple succeeded in developing a new flexible user interface, integrating technologies brilliantly to this purpose. It has changed communications techniques globally across numerous sectors.
In the field of environmental technology, I would say that 2nd generation biofuels, and in general waste recycling technologies, will continue to play a crucial role in the inevitable shift away from fossil fuels. If the private road-vehicle will go electric, other transport modes will depend strongly on biofuels.
Having worked for the European Commission for many years, what has been the most influential legislative change you have seen?
The European Union’s 20-20-20 Strategy, agreed in 2006 and coming to fruition this year. It initiated a major shift to renewable energy, initially in Europe but the technologies have also taken firm hold globally. The next steps in EU legislation will, however, have an even greater impact.
How do you see the political and legislative environment changing through to 2050?
Following the 2008 financial crisis, we see a resurgence of left-wing politics promoting more state-control. Will liberal fiscal regimes survive? I believe it will depend how well the rich manage to make themselves into “good citizens” in the eyes of the man on the street.
Within this, environmental legislation is a hot-spot. Future EU targets (to 2030) will be harder to reach than 20-20-20, not only as technologically low-lying fruit has been taken, but also the EU governance of environmental targets has been weakened. Moreover, the UN COP agreements, following major setbacks post-Kyoto, are struggling to establish an adequate global framework. However, popular debate is heating up, hopefully this will drive the politics to a more robust line on climate change.
How has the perception of energy, environment and efficiency evolved in your view in recent years? What do you envisage for the future of the sector?
It is now taken very seriously, as a business and as a socially beneficial sector. An issue is that its earnings margins are not close to, for example, oil and gas. But the oil majors are also realising that their business models are being challenged, so that their investment strategies now include acquiring clean energy, and promoting technologies such as CCUS (carbon capture, utilisation and/or storage). As the pressure grows from environmental legislation, I believe inevitable, this trend will continue until ultimately there is convergence between ‘old’ and ‘new’ energy within the same businesses.
From an investment point of view, what do you see as the key challenges for emerging technologies attracting finance? How do you see those being overcome in the coming decades?
The EU’s sustainable investment taxonomy adopted in 2019 leads the way to channel investments to sustainable projects and technologies. Major financial institutions, such as Blackrock, have signalled their intent to follow this path. Again, in the long term, I see convergence from the top down, with very large investors in public companies demanding environmental compliance, and the bottom up, with smaller investors in venture capital picking the right technologies to enable the transition. A primary challenge will be developing key performance indicators for sustainable investments.
What are the key ingredients to delivering innovation?
These are too numerous to list but include a supportive regulatory framework, appropriate financial incentives (grants, etc.) from the public sector, fostering entrepreneurship and a strong financial ecosystem to provide investment capital.
Describe your career journey in a few words
After 10 years helping NATO build its naval and air defences as an engineer, I moved to the European Commission in Brussels to help manage the EU’s R&D programmes, first in IT/telecoms, later in energy, aviation, maritime and Industry 4.0. I had close involvement in the EU’s enlargement to include Eastern Europe, both in the politics (Adviser to the President of Latvia) and in negotiations (negotiator of the energy chapter for the Baltic States and Poland). I worked with Turquoise from 2010-12, moved back to the European Commission until 2019 and am now returning to the venture capital arena.
What’s been your biggest professional challenge?
Drafting EU legislation on aviation insurance, following 9/11, in a few days. The sector was blocked, as private insurers invoked wartime exclusion clauses after President Bush declared a “War on Terror”, grounding thousands of planes.
What is your proudest professional moment?
Co-authoring the EU’s first Strategic Energy Technologies (SET) Plan in 2009. This defined and co-funded key energy technologies to implement the EU’s 20-20-20 strategy, a landmark in clean energy policy. And of course being part of the European Commission team, when the EU received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.
Who would you like to have dinner with – and why?
Henry Kissinger. To discover who he thinks can put the climate agenda on track globally and how they should do it.