By José Domínguez Abascal,
Technical General Secretary of Abengoa.
Andalusia and Spain do not innovate sufficiently. But change is possible, although it will be slow and complicated. If we want to enjoy a level of development equivalent to the most advanced countries, and that this development is sustainable in every sense of the word (economically, environmentally and socially), the only way is through knowledge and innovation. Knowledge and innovation are the means by which we can achieve the productivity and competitiveness that is required, in a sustainable way, in order to have the prosperity that ensures wellbeing in the medium and long term in a globalized world.
Knowledge and innovation are the principal mechanisms for generating value and growth in modern societies; innovation, in the broadest sense of the word, meaning “knowledge-based changes that generate value”. It is therefore about developing technology; generating new products, processes and services; and searching for new ways of solving old problems. Changes based on scientific and technological knowledge, but also on the arts, humanities and socio-economic sciences; knowledge acquired inside and outside of companies through all kinds of research, technological development and creativity. Changes that generate a value that is recognized by the market and that can be anticipated by the promoter of this change. Changes that are developed in an environment that seeks real prosperity and not speculation.
Taking on these changes requires business leaders with courage, who know how to identify innovation as a source of growth and take the risk of implementing it; universities and research centers that understand knowledge creation and knowledge transfer as an inherent need of their social function; and governments that plan and legislate in a predictable way in order to create a stable framework in which the virtuous cycle of education-research-investment-innovation can take place.
The economic crisis has highlighted the weaknesses of certain countries and regions compared to others. We have to take R&D and innovation very seriously so that they become a permanent part of our economic model as the cornerstone for growth.
But how do we start down this route in Andalusia and Spain? The key lies in working with existing sectors, strengthening them, making them competitive and ensuring that they grow towards new products by developing knowledge and technology. There are a variety of sectors that fulfill the requirements as the basis for prosperous and sustainable industrial development. One of these is renewable energy, thanks to its capacity for growth, its ability to revitalize investment in R&D and innovation, and because it represents a genuine opportunity for Spain to become a global leader.
In the coming decades the world will evolve towards a renewable energy model. The current model based on fossil fuels has run its course due to the limited nature of these resources and because of its role in bringing about climate change, which cannot be allowed to continue. There will also be huge growth in the world’s population and therefore in the demand for energy, with the subsequent growth of a sector that is of primary economic and strategic importance at a global level. Fortunately, today Spain is a global leader in wind and solar-thermal power technology and Spanish companies – many in Andalusia – are among the leading firms in developing and constructing plants in this important emerging market.
For the first time in history, Spanish companies are making important contributions to the technological and industrial development of a sector that is economically significant on a global scale, with high value-added products, which is producing major benefits for employment and industrial development directly and indirectly in other sectors and economic activities. Thousands of Spaniards currently benefit from high-quality jobs designing, building and operating wind and solar-thermal plants in Spain and in numerous other countries, generating economic value wherever they are.
This technological leadership has been achieved thanks to the combination of sustained commitment to innovation and a long-term research and development plan jointly carried out by research centers, universities and private companies; an industrial plan supported by central and regional governments that understood the differentiating value of this commitment; and the implementation of this plan by a large number of business leaders who decided to take on the challenge and the technological risk and who invested their money.
The global energy model will be a renewable one, with or without Spain. However, today we have a unique opportunity to maintain and increase our leadership, to export technology, and create wealth and highly-qualified jobs. However, we could also opt to be mere users – like we have so many times in the past – paying a high price over the course of decades for products developed by others, with R&D investment taking place in other countries, and quality jobs being created in countries other than Spain.
Several factors are necessary for innovation, competitiveness, internationalization and sustainable development: Firstly, education that recognizes effort, provides skills and creates open-minded people with regards to developing innovations; secondly, close collaboration between companies, universities and public administrations, so that the former develop products and services based on knowledge that is generated by the universities, and which are supported by clear, long-lasting and stable strategies and policies defined by public administrations; thirdly, the availability of financing for new developments, and lastly, legal certainty.