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A thriving UK cleantech sector is essential for green growth in the UK

Dermot Coady, director of Myriad CEG, a provider of renewable energy systems, with eight offices dotted around the UK, is busy but contented. Generating heat and power from clean energy sources is a national priority and Myriad CEG is in the enviable position of being at the forefront of this cleantech revolution.

That is not just good news for the company, as it forecasts to double its business over the next 12 months and hire a raft of people in different roles, but is also good news for the green economy, as The Carbon Trust reveals in its latest survey.

Defying wider economic uncertainty, the survey shows that in the past year the UK's cleantech companies have become more confident about their prospects, with more than three-quarters (77%) looking to recruit in the next 12 months, and over a third (37%) planning to expand into new export markets in the next two years. Specific skills in demand are engineering/technical (75%) and sales/marketing (32%).

The companies surveyed listed their own growth prospects, technical strength, sales pipeline and market position as key factors driving this optimism. Government legislation and policies, such as the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) scheme, carbon targets and sustainable building regulations, were also given as reasons for confidence.

However, the survey identifies potential barriers to growth. First, fundraising is essential - and 29% of the companies interviewed cited a lack of access to finance as the main obstacle to expansion. Second, this funding question is even more acute for smaller companies (those with revenues of less than £2 million), where the number of companies concerned about access to finance rose to 40%. Overall, about one in five companies indicated they would consider moving their HQ from the UK - mainly owing to funding problems they believed would be less of a problem in other countries.

The research, commissioned by the Carbon Trust and conducted by Cleantech Group, is the most comprehensive survey of UK cleantech companies this year. It provides insights into the confidence of the British cleantech sector, looking at a range of topics, including growth prospects, the place of the UK in the global cleantech market and technology leadership.

Benj Sykes, director of innovations at the Carbon Trust, said: "A thriving UK cleantech sector is essential for green growth in the UK. Our research shows that cleantech innovators are feeling optimistic about their prospects and have ambitious plans for the future. However, access to finance, along with a stable policy environment, will make or break these growth prospects. The sector offers significant growth opportunity and investors should now seize the opportunity to be part of this new industry."

Like Myriad CEG, Econotherm is an example of a cleantech company that is going from strength to strength. The firm doubled staff and turnover in 2010 and predicts equivalent growth within the first half of 2011, with plans to expand its factory in Bridgend, Wales.

Econotherm is at the cutting edge of energy-efficient technology - believed to be the only company of its kind in Europe. Its waste heat recuperators recover heat from industrial furnaces, boilers, ovens, thermal oxidisers and incinerators. The recovered heat is then used to warm air, water or thermal oil, public and operational spaces, or even for electricity generation.

Chris Smith, managing director, Econotherm, said: "We are overwhelmed with demand for our products from all corners of the globe, including India, Italy, Chile, Middle East, Eastern Europe and Malaysia.

"Our technology can achieve a 15%-25% reduction on a piece of industrial equipment such as a boiler or furnace. Large energy users in the UK can no longer afford to ignore this opportunity."

With favourable policies and a framework that supports job creation, the fortunes of the wider economy may well be pinned on cleantech companies such as these, which owe their success to much more than just hot air.

Michael Saxton is founder of Greenpoint PR