Public-private cooperation discussed at the innovation conference in Castellón

Public procurement for innovation, an opportunity to improve the industry

innovation has been one of the driving forces of the planet throughout mankind’s existence, and in today’s interconnected, technological and globalised world, this factor has been magnified. New challenges are opening up in today’s innovation landscape, and the opportunity for government to benefit from innovation, to foster it and to help companies improve through it is perhaps one of the greatest.

This is why various actors, from the European Union to regional governments and national administrations, are trying to support it through Public Procurement of Innovation (PPI).

This instrument could be one of the keys to improving the governance, efficiency and functionality of the more than 720 Valencian business parks. At least, that is what the participants in a breakfast organised this Wednesday by Castellón Plaza with the support of the Valencian Innovation Agency (AVI) and the sponsorship of the Federation of Business Parks of the Valencian Community (Fepeval) thought.

At the Castellón Chamber of Commerce, public and private sector leaders stressed the importance of working together to grow through innovation.

Public-private partnership

This public-private collaboration is one of the pillars promoted by the ICC and should be encouraged, especially in order to transfer innovation to industrial areas, as all participants agreed. For this reason, the Generalitat approved in 2018 “the first law on industrial zones in all of Spain”, highlighted the director of Fepeval, Diego Romá.

In it, and how could it be otherwise, “the town councils are a key element” because they are the closest to the administration and where the industrial areas are located. From there, the aim is to find ways to improve the competitiveness of the companies in each municipality, “but also the quality of life of the men and women who work in the industrial areas”.

But, in addition, local councils themselves can also benefit from public procurement for innovation. Juan Llobell, president of Tantum Consultores, points out that a city council or any other public body can turn to PPI “if it has a product or an unmet need”. However, this is not always easy.

The mayoress of La Vall d’Uixó, Tania Baños, points out that the workload of the local councils makes it difficult to manage even the support offered by the Valencian Institute for Business Competitiveness (Ivace). The Contracting Law obliges them to carry out a project from its preparation to the certification of the work within a year.

Moreover, as Llobell points out, “it is not possible for any city council to know everything that exists on the market” in terms of innovation and what it can use to improve the efficiency of industrial estates.

Management and modernisation entities

This is why Baños, like others, insists on public-private partnerships as an opportunity. However, it is necessary to move in another direction. In the case of Vall d’Uixó, with its two industrial estates, “we find ourselves with a serious lack of communication with companies”.

To facilitate this process, the Valencian law provides for the creation of management and modernisation bodies (EGM) to bring together the voices of the companies located in these areas, to serve as mediators in negotiations with the administration, but not only with it.

In this context, the president of the Port Authority of Castellón, Rafa Simó, stresses that “it is necessary to work in a network at all levels, to share challenges and good and bad practices; the experience of sharing is not yet very applicable in our daily work”. And the figures prove it.

Of the more than 720 industrial estates in the region, “twenty-something percent have some kind of association or organisation that manages them”, says Fran Izquierdo, director of the consultancy division of Segurinter Sistemas de Seguridad.

Romá, who is also director of the Spanish Confederation of Business Zones (Cedaes), confirms this: “Only 10% of Spanish industrial estates have an organisation that manages them. We need EGMs so that the administration is aware of the needs of companies and so that they know that the solution they are looking for can be offered by a company in the same park”.

Local administrations only have the option of using Ivace subsidies to build fibre optics, but it only subsidises the building works, not the cabling, which means that the trenches are often empty. However, there may be other ways to subsidise the supply of materials.

Llobell points to various options, such as the EU’s New Generation Funds or the European Multiannual Financial Framework, as well as the channels offered by the state. In many cases, the ideal solution is to “go straight to the big boys“, which applies to Brussels. He says that many grants have not yet been awarded.

But before all these steps, the ideal is to draw up a “specific action plan” for each industrial zone that includes “strategic planning” and is capable of “attracting investors”, says Valls. And from there, focus on innovation, “which we don’t know how far it can take us”, says Simó. It can also help to meet “the great challenge of sustainability”, another of the fundamental objectives of today’s world, says Marín.

And always from the starting point of public-private collaboration, because this division should not be seen as a barrier between the two parts of society, says the president of PortCastelló: “We must abolish the distinction between the public and private sectors and make it between those who are involved and those who are not; those who want to bet on the model or not“. In this sense, it is “important” that local councils have a “department for economic support“, Izquierdo pointed out, to encourage innovation.

Tools already exist

But it is also true that, without going that far, there are already products that industrial companies can use to improve their efficiency. Among these tools, experts point out that geographic information systems or the Lokinn and Innotransfer platforms can be very useful. “But we need to move towards smart business parks and we need everyone to get involved: city councils, companies and administrative authorities”, concludes Roma.

Innovation Day: Castellón’s industry will not be sustainable without public-private collaboration

The chilling rise in gas and electricity prices has brought to the forefront a number of energy fronts to which all economic activity in Castellón is exposed.

To the increase in costs must be added the political tension between Morocco and Algeria, which for the moment has led to the interruption of the main gas pipeline to our country. Meanwhile, it cannot be ignored that the European Union has a strict transition programme to emit only 45% of the CO₂ currently consumed by 2030 and to reach 0% by 2050.

The experts gathered at the main table of the 6th Innovation Conference organised by Mediterráneo and Simetría, in collaboration with CaixaBank and EnerHi, agreed that in order to overcome this challenge without leaving anyone behind. It will be necessary to strengthen cooperation mechanisms between companies and administrations, to which must be added the knowledge provided by universities and technological institutes.

When it comes to replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources, streamlining the current bureaucracy will help the future.

Francisco Vea, Innovation Director of the Simetría Group

In his speech, he said that the use of renewable energies between 2030 and 2050 “is the solution, but there are other keys, such as the legislative framework; in addition, we need more collaboration between the public and private sectors”. He also stressed that companies “should not think that they will not be affected by these changes“. As for the economic benefits of European funds, “they will help, but we want them to reach not only large companies and SMEs, but also medium-sized ones”.

As for the business opportunities associated with the energy transition, “there is liquidity and financial institutions that want to invest in renewables”, but the proposals that are on the table will depend on “whether there are changes in the rules during the investment“. He recalled that Symmetry already anticipated this movement and created subsidiaries dedicated to this issue, which have existed for more than a decade.

Toni Llorens, Managing Director of the energy company EnerHi

He believes that at the moment “the solutions already exist, so rather than improving the technology, we need to improve the processes” so that all the renewable energy plans that are presented to the administrations can work as soon as possible. “Processing is not personalised“, he lamented, so at the current rate “we are not going to get there“. Another angle was the cost of wind or photovoltaic installations.

“Previous solutions were expensive, but this is clearly not the case now”, both in terms of obtaining clean energy at affordable prices and because of the future prospects of green hydrogen.

“It is a vector that must be taken into account”, he said. This is especially important because, in the case of Spain, “we depend 80% on foreign countries and we cannot be competitive if we depend on the countries that produce energy”.

Rafa Simó, president of Port Castelló

The arrival of the European funds is a “historic opportunity” to accelerate the energy transformation process of Castellón’s industry, he said. This is especially important in a logistics ecosystem like that of Castellón, in which there are two important players, “such as the petrochemical industry and ceramics”.

The facilities of the Port Authority of Castellón are preparing to adopt renewable energy mechanisms linked to maritime transport, through alliances with the ports of Valencia and Alicante.

In his conclusions, Simó said that the success of this key moment must come with “the limitation of external dependencies, because any slightest speculation on prices affects us; with a joint planning and strategy of all the sectors involved and with a commitment to networking” to achieve the objectives set for the coming years.

Vicente Nomdedeu, President of Ascer

The president of the employers’ association, which brings together tile manufacturers, called on the administration, the energy sector and its customers to “listen more”, as “many jobs are at stake” in the process. He added that sustainability “has to have it both ways”, which refers to both improving the environment in relation to new energy sources and preserving businesses and their jobs.

As for timelines, he said that timescales are tight. “Changes from today to tomorrow are difficult” because currently “there is no other energy source that is as competitive as gas”. Still, Ascer said “we are working on up to four ways”to reduce fuel dependence, such as electricity, green hydrogen, biomethane or methods to capture CO₂ released into the atmosphere.

Regarding the contribution of the different sectors of the economy and the political class, Nomdedeu said that “we all have to make an effort, because on the one hand our companies are in a delicate situation with energy costs that we cannot fully reflect in our prices. On the other hand, the government must compensate, regulate and apply temporary measures to solve the energy crisis.”.

Empar Martínez, Director General for Industry and Energy of the Generalitat of Catalonia

The regional government representative on the panel of experts acknowledged the need to speed up the procedures for the installation of renewable energies: “It is complicated for all the administrations and we are working on it, although we are beginning to see the reality of the approval of large projects”, she said.

On the other hand, he pointed out that these changes must be accompanied by the innovative capacity of companies that have “the capacity to propose solutions in terms of recharging points, electrolysers in the green hydrogen production process or burners in furnaces”.

When it comes to new energy sources, “we must think of all the alternatives“, which include not only wind and solar, but also “biomethane or thermal energy”.

María Jesús Muñoz, lecturer in financial economics and accounting at the UJI

Speaking on behalf of the university community, the speaker said that companies “already see the need to change the energy sector, there are no longer deniers of the problem and that is a joy”. He pointed out that in the current situation “we have to use different energy, produce and consume differently to face a future that has no way back; we cannot go back to the same situation as ten years ago”. To this end, he recalled the role of the UJI in this field, in a context “in which everyone has to row in the same direction”.

In his speech, he highlighted renewables as a business opportunity and economic stability. “There are reports from the International Energy Agency detailing that they are more profitable than other fossil energies and that they have improved a lot in recent years; renewable energy sources are also more resistant to shocks such as metalloid, have a better yield profile, more profitable portfolios and less risk. em>.

For this reason, he concluded that these changes have the support of the markets. For this to bear the desired fruit, “we have to get our act together or we will continue to lag behind other countries; Spain has been a solar engine, we have missed the train and now we must not miss it again”, he concluded.

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