By Tom Nightingale, North East Stakeholder Manager, Equinor
Early in 2019, the government announced a sector deal for offshore wind. This built on the UK’s world leadership in offshore wind, with the intention of maximising the advantages for industry from the global energy transition. At this time, the ambitious target of 30GW by 2030 was set in this important sector partnership between industry and government. Since then, the government’s 10-point plan has increased the ambition to a new target of 40GW by 2030, including 1GW of floating offshore wind.
Building Back Better
The deal was built on the foundations of the Industrial Strategy – Ideas, People, Infrastructure, Business Environment and Places. A key element of Places was to build on established clusters in the UK, typically located close to wind farms or areas with a strong, pre-existing manufacturing base, oil and gas or R&D presence. Examples include East Anglia and North Scotland, both home to many supply chain companies as well as wind farms such as Dudgeon and Sheringham Shoal in East Anglia and Hywind Scotland off the coast of Aberdeenshire. Typically, coastal communities like these have suffered from declining industries, and the regeneration offshore wind has provided has been a great success, in creating highly paid green jobs in areas that need it the most.
Energi Coast – North East England’s Offshore Wind Cluster
North East England is a great example of a cluster that not only has several projects in operation, in planning or under construction, including the world’s largest Dogger Bank, but is also home to some of the key infrastructure required to support a successful offshore wind supply chain. At the heart of this is the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult’s testing facilities in Blyth. This world leading R&D centre supports an increasing number of research projects in offshore wind, including the testing of GE’s Haliade-X 107m blade, which will be used on Dogger Bank. Energi Coast activities are delivered by NOF, a leading business development organisation in the energy sector, and brings together a collaboration between industry, supply chain, academia and local enterprise partnerships.
North East England’s geographic location and vast coastline includes excellent land and port infrastructure making it an ideal place to set up a business in offshore wind. The area has a long history in manufacture and the region’s strengths and heritage as a maritime and industrial powerhouse provides the foundation for a strong and vibrant offshore wind sector. Offshore Wind is a priority for both Local Enterprise Partnership’s in the region, leading to increased investment and focus across the North East.
With a number of established ports already involved in the offshore wind sector, such as the Port of Tyne, Port of Blyth and Teesport, the North East already has very strong capabilities for mobilising during the construction and operations phases of offshore wind projects. The new Teesworks site on Teesside also adds an attractive location for investment, especially due to the Freeport status announced earlier this year. With Dogger Bank as the anchor project, Teesworks has already attracted GE to the site, to manufacture wind turbine blades. The new facility will create over 750 direct and 1500 indirect jobs according to GE.
With an established oil and gas supply chain, the North East is also well positioned to support diversification of existing suppliers into offshore wind. Some great examples have already hailed from the region, such as JDR Cables in Hartlepool, who has supplied to many domestic projects, as well as being a significant exporter to offshore wind projects globally. Energi Coast has helped developers to promote supply chain opportunities, such as ‘Meet The Buyer’ events, bringing all levels of the supply chain together to identify opportunities directly with developers and from Tier 1 suppliers.
Delivering on the sector deal commitments
Clusters such as Energi Coast are able to support the sector deal commitments in a regional context. Energi Coast connects local infrastructure with innovation and investment to help grow offshore wind in the region, as well as to develop the supply chain to support exports.
An example is the Technology, Innovation & Green Growth for Offshore Renewables (TIGGOR) programme designed to boost supply chain growth and productivity in the North of Tyne and wider North East England region’s offshore wind and subsea sectors. Funded primarily by the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA), the programme also encourages market entrance of companies that currently do not operate in these industries. The TIGGOR programme will be delivered by ORE Catapult, and we at Equinor, along with EDF Renewables, will play a technical advisory role, supporting the North East businesses through the programme, working closely with North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and the NTCA.
Skills for the future
People and skills are a key part of the sector deal and offshore wind is helping to create new jobs in coastal communities all over the UK. Members of Energi Coast have collaborated to map the existing skills capabilities in offshore wind across the region and are working together to understand the future skills needs. Colleges, universities, and training providers have been central to the group to ensure that the right courses are available as the sector grows. An important element is also increasing diversity, attracting more women and diverse cultures to offshore wind.
This starts at school level and STEM education is at the forefront of many offshore wind community engagement programmes. Dogger Bank has announced a community fund of £1m during the construction of the wind farm, with more funding to be announced during operations. The fund is one of the largest commitments to skills ever made by the offshore wind sector and will benefit South Tyneside as well as East Riding of Yorkshire. Redcar and Cleveland will also benefit following Dogger Bank C final investment decision, expected at the end of 2021. In South Tyneside, close to the Dogger Bank operations and maintenance base at Port of Tyne’s Clean Energy Park, the STEM programme will focus on the transition from primary to secondary schools, as well as promoting young girls into STEM subjects. The fund also includes scholarships for further education in STEM subjects and an operators’ fund to support other local causes up to the value of £500.
Preparing for a Net Zero world
The investments made to support offshore wind in the UK will have a ripple effect into other sectors in the UK and overseas. Building larger and more advanced infrastructure will allow the sector to increase UK content, whilst also increasing the opportunity for exports. Investing in innovation will also support the supply chain to be more competitive and win more work versus overseas players. While the focus on people and places will help to regenerate coastal communities that need it the most and provide skilled and highly paid jobs to local people. The government has set the wheels in motion and we need to continue this momentum via policy and consenting to ensure that we deliver on our commitments in the UK, as well as in our growing clusters. The UK can continue to lead the world in offshore wind…from Great Yarmouth to Grimsby to Blyth and beyond.