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Building a renewable energy community: the South Coast & the case for a regional cluster

Updated: Sep 27, 2023


Last summer RenewableUK brought together members with a presence on the South Coast to discuss how they could form closer links with one another and the wide range of benefits that could bring. One year on those members have been invited to reconvene to hear how plans have progressed and join the discussion on the next steps towards establishing a regional cluster and building a renewable energy community on the South Coast.




The Offshore Wind Sector Deal and the role of a cluster


In March 2019 the UK Government and Offshore Wind Industry Council (OWIC) signed a world leading Sector Deal. The deal marked the deepening of a partnership between the offshore wind sector and UK government, working together on a long-term strategy to develop offshore wind as the backbone of the UK’s power system, and seeking to maximise the advantages for UK industry from the global shift to clean growth.


The Sector Deal is built on the five foundations of the UK’s Industrial Strategy:


Ideas: the world’s most innovative economy


People: good jobs and greater earning power for all


Infrastructure: a major upgrade to the UK’s infrastructure


Business environment: the best place to start and grow a business


Places: prosperous communities across the UK


The ‘Places’ foundation of the Sector Deal introduces the concept of a cluster. Prior to the Sector Deal being completed regional clusters were already emerging, typically located in areas close to existing wind farms, or areas where there were established manufacturing bases, e.g. the Humber region.


The Deal intended to capitalise on these naturally existing clusters. The aim was that the sector would work with Local Enterprise Partnerships, Enterprise agencies and corresponding bodies to help deliver the regional clusters, closely linking in with SMEs, industry, innovation centres and educational institutions to help foster local innovation, drive competitiveness, increase economies of scale and productivity.


Five years on


Next March will mark five years since the Offshore Wind Sector Deal was struck. Since then, seven clusters have been established. The Offshore Wind Growth Partnership’s (OWGP) cluster map provides an overview of the clusters and their geographic coverage. There is a ‘Solent’ cluster marked on the map, but it was never established.



What are we missing by not having a regional cluster?

The role of the clusters links to the other foundations in the Sector Deal. Without a regional cluster the South Coast risks missing out on the opportunity to play a key role in the future of offshore wind skills and supply chain development in the UK and the benefits this could bring to the region:


People: The recently released OWIC Offshore Wind Skills Intelligence Report estimates that by 2030 the offshore wind industry will employ over 100,000 people, up from 32,257 today, a rate of growth that is outstripping the pace of growth in current workforce numbers. One of the key recommendations in the report is to “work collaboratively with the clusters for place-based solutions – where strategies and plans delivered at a national level work hand in glove with tailored, impactful local solutions.” (OWIC, 2023).


Business Environment: The OWGP has set-up a programme to address the challenge of supply chain competitiveness and productivity improvement. This initiative was established to work with businesses and SMEs to address the UK productivity gap, to increase business competitiveness, promote supply chain collaboration and innovation, and help increase supply chain capacity through attracting new entrants and growing existing capacity. The programme coordinates closely with the work the sector is doing through the existing regional clusters.



What other benefits could a cluster bring to your business?

In addition to the role of the regional cluster mentioned above there are other benefits clusters can bring including:

  • The opportunity to raise your profile and that of your business.

  • A focal point to share knowledge and information about the sector and to promote opportunities.

  • A forum to discuss industry opportunities and challenges at a regional scale.

  • Opportunities for networking and business development.

  • The opportunity to foster closer links with local businesses and organisations to develop a regional renewable energy community.


What does it take to set-up a cluster?


The Offshore Energy Alliance (OEA), the cluster for North Wales and North West England was established in 2019 following the announcement of the Sector Deal. Helen Thomas, Team Lead for Supply Chain Development at RWE, who played a key role in setting-up the OEA shared her thoughts on some of the most important considerations when looking to set-up a cluster:


  1. Take stock of the existing local organisations to avoid duplication and identify synergies.

  2. Listen to what local businesses and organisations would like to get from the regional cluster.

  3. Identify the unique capabilities and strength of the region.

  4. Set-up a secretariat.

  5. Establish governance and Terms of Reference.

  6. Establish a funding structure.

  7. Bring partner organisations on-board who would like to champion topics such as skills.

  8. Determine how information about the cluster and its activities will be communicated, e.g., website, webinars, events, etc.

  9. Don’t focus on offshore wind alone. Ports and harbours, the maritime sector, other forms of energy generation e.g., hydrogen, etc. all contribute to what makes the region unique and are important to consider and engage with when setting-up a cluster.


What happens next?


On 27th September Womble Bond Dickinson’s Southampton office will host RenewableUK’s South Coast Connect, a local event that provides members the opportunity to network with clients and colleagues, as well as engage with the RenewableUK team. Prior to the event members are invited to hear more on what has been done to progress plans for a South Coast cluster following last year’s workshop and dive into the discussion on the next steps that need to be taken to establish a regional cluster.


Share your thoughts


It’s clear that a regional cluster on the South Coast would have a key role to play as a focal point to connect local government, businesses, educational institutions, and innovation centres to help members gain the benefits of offshore wind development in the UK and internationally. In addition, it could be the foundation on which to build a regional renewable energy community.


What are your thoughts on establishing a South Coast cluster? Is this something that would bring value to you and your business? RenewableUK would love to hear your thoughts so please e-mail events@renewableuk.com to register for the event. If you’re unable to join the Connect please share your thoughts in the comments.


The South Coast in the spotlight

The South Coast is home to a diverse range of businesses and organisations all playing key roles in supporting offshore wind and the wider renewable energy industry. It would be impossible to list all of them so here are just a few:


Womble Bond Dickinson: in addition to being the fantastic hosts of the South Coast Connect they are an international law firm and one of the UK’s leading advisors to the renewable energy industry.

National Oceanography Centre: as the UK’s leading ocean research centre the scientists and engineers at NOC are working in collaboration with the industry on a broad range of topics from environmental interactions to robotics and autonomous systems.


RWE’s Rampion Offshore Wind Farm: located approximately 13 km’s off the Sussex coast the wind farm has been fully operation since 2018. Rampion 2 is also in planning and had its consent application accepted by the Planning Inspectorate earlier this month.


Fugro: as the leading provider of Geo-Data, the team on the south coast provide insights to understand the earth and environment to design, build and maintain renewable energy projects.


Vestas: last year the wind turbine manufacturer announced that it would be manufacturing the blades for its V174-9.5 MW turbines at its factory in Newport on the Isle of Wight.



About the author


Julia lives in Hampshire on the South Coast of England. Originally from Grimsby it was studying for a Degree in Oceanography at the University of Southampton that brought her down to the South Coast where she eventually settled. Julia has spent the last 10 years working for Fugro, a Dutch headquartered engineering company with 10 office locations across the UK, including Portchester, where she works with a dedicated team of talented geoscientists and engineers working on major renewables developments around the world. She is also a member of RenewableUK’s Shadow Board. Outside of work Julia can usually be found between the Solent on her paddleboard and walking in the hills of the South Downs where, on a clear day, you can see Rampion Offshore Wind Farm in the distance.


About the RenewableUK Shadow Board


In addition to the main Board, RenewableUK has set up a Shadow Board to provide a wider range of views on key issues to Board Members. They provide valuable insights and fresh perspectives. RenewableUK provides this opportunity to Shadow Board members to help develop their careers.


The Shadow Board Members represent companies from every part of the renewable energy sector. It brings expertise across a broad range of areas such as: project development, digitalisation, project management, investment, asset management, business development, supply chain development, policy and public affairs.


The current Shadow Board will come to the end of their tenure at the end of this year. Applications to join the new cohort are currently open. More information on the opportunity can be obtained by contacting: ShadowElections@RenewableUK.com.

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