Cleantech goes back to the future at CEPEC

One of the things I love about the cleantech revolution is that sometimes innovators take an age-old idea and bring it bang up to date. The first time we encountered this was when working with a business developing fuel cells. While, William Grove is widely credited with inventing the fuel cell in 1839, our client adapted the technology to solve today’s standby power problems.

The 8th CEPEC showcase cleantech investors conference featured over a dozen businesses seeking investment to fuel growth. At least three of the pitches stepped back in time to bring their future cleantech products to market.

CRESS Systems

A German artisan and sometime metalworker with the unforgettable name of Theophilus Presbyter documented the use of flywheels, which he applied to his inventions as long ago as 1100.

The latest incarnation of the flywheel as an energy storage device comes from research and development at Reading University, delivering a concept which is now being commercialised by CRESS Systems.

In today’s lithium-ion fuelled battery-storage frenzy, it’s easy to forget that other energy storage technologies are available. The beauty of the humble, well-engineered flywheel is that it can accommodate over a million duty cycles before it fails – better by orders of magnitude than today’s battery technology.

For the right applications – where transient energy storage will meet the need, flywheels give a much better ROI than other storage technologies. Amongst other industrial applications, CRESS is using its flywheels to enable gantry crane operators to recover the potential energy from lifting containers. It recovers sufficient energy to give a ‘free’ lift on every third cycle, saving fuel costs and reducing pollution from diesel generators.

Enviga Geothermal

The Irish civil engineer Alexander Mitchell first described helical screw piles in a paper appearing in Civil Engineers and Architects Journal in 1848. In essence, a screw pile is a simple hollow tubular steel shaft incorporating a screw or helix, which anchors the shaft in the ground.

Our Victorian forefathers embraced the screw pile in creating foundations for the construction of lighthouses and piers. The fact that many are still standing is testament to the longevity of this simple piece of engineering.

Enviga is breathing new life into the helical screw pile by incorporating ground heat exchangers for renewable energy heating using a heat pump. Developers can use Enviga’s ‘Thermo Screw Piles’ for constructing residential and commercial buildings, reducing the time required to lay foundations by 80% and providing cost-effective, ready-made bore holes for ground-source heating.

Enviga’s approach to concrete-free foundations are ideal for rapid off-site construction and qualify for the renewable heat incentive – vital ingredients to support the UK government’s drive to provide two million new homes by 2020.

North Wales Tidal Energy (NWTE)

France’s EDF launched the world’s first large-scale tidal scheme (La Rance Tidal Power Plant) in the mid 1960s. Over fifty years later, the UK government commissioned an independent review into the feasibility and practicality of tidal lagoon energy in the UK. The Rt. Hon. Charles Hendry delivered his review on 12 January 2017, concluding:

“I believe that the evidence is clear that tidal lagoons can play a cost-effective role in the UK’s energy mix… tidal lagoons would help security of supply; they would assist in our decarbonisation commitments; and they would bring real and substantial opportunities for the UK supply chain.”

He continued:

“Most importantly, it is clear that tidal lagoons at scale could deliver low carbon in a way that is very competitive with other low carbon sources.”

NWTE’s aims are to develop a world-leading integrated tidal energy scheme along the North Wales coast. As well as providing a completely predictable form of large-scale energy supply, the proposed scheme will act as a vital barrier to protect the North Wales coastline, which is becoming increasingly susceptible to erosion, threatening communities, as well as road and rail links.

The tidal scheme consists of a bund wall stretching from the coast, out to sea then back to land such that the wall can contain and store a huge volume of water brought by the tide. The bund wall will contain concrete bays to hold water turbines and sluice gates needed to optimise power generation from the tides. The construction will take 3-5 years to complete, but will be designed to last for over 100 years.

The amount of energy produced by the scheme will depend on the final design, but is expected to be of strategic importance for Wales and the UK.


In order for these great projects to contribute positively to today’s energy needs, they need funding to get them off the ground and commercially viable.  CEPEC is one such match making event, being able to clearly communicate the potential investment opportunity is essential. I remembered the great ‘back to the future’ innovations, however there were a few equally memorable for the wrong reasons.  Get your message right, get your proposition clear and cover off the ‘so whats’ and be prepared to answer direct questions.      

We wish them well in their fundraising endeavours, and will be keeping a keen eye on their progress.