By Ben Simmons

GE and the Carbon Trust today announced a new pan-European partnership to accelerate European clean tech growth amid growing evidence that the region is struggling to keep up with other parts of the globe in this critical sector.

The initial 18 month phase of the partnership includes a $5 million business incubation fund targeted at new low carbon technologies in the area of infrastructure applications.

The Carbon Trust will work with GE to identify and evaluate early stage companies, then incubate and invest in those with the most potential. This partnership is part of the $200 million GE ecomagination Challenge, a global open innovation initiative with Venture Capital partners that launched in 2010 to find and fund the best ideas around clean tech technology. To date, GE and partners have committed $134 million for investment and commercial partnerships with start-up companies globally.

According to GE’s recent Innovation Barometer, which polled 2,800 businesses across 22 markets globally, the majority of UK companies surveyed saw innovation as fundamental to the future health of the UK — both economically and socially — but that sufficient triggers are not in place to stimulate and encourage it.

The results make it clear that UK companies see collaboration as a key to future growth. 84% of UK businesses believe that developing partnerships and collaboration with a combination of players - including government, big business, SMEs and individuals - is the key to success in innovation. Almost 9 out of 10 UK businesses also claim that SMEs and individual entrepreneurs can be as innovative as bigger companies, reinforcing the need for seed funding and support for local innovations and ideas.

“Cleantech has the capacity to be a strong growth driver for Europe given its strong research capability and track record in this area," says Carbon Trust Chief Executive Tom Delay. "However, there is increasing evidence that other parts of the world are catching up and overtaking the region. This exciting initiative will accelerate the commercialisation of Europe’s more promising cleantech businesses.”

Over the past five years Europe has seen its global clean energy lead eroded compared to other parts of the world. According to a recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance report*, in 2007 42% of the world’s clean energy investment took place in Europe compared to just 25% today. During the same period Asia Oceania has almost doubled its share of overall investment.

Analysis of venture capital investment activity in Q4 2011 by the Cleantech Group showed that North America accounted for almost two thirds of total venture capital investments in the cleantech sector in this period, with Europe and Asia Pacific accounting for just 19% and 18% respectively.

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