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What does it take to build a Net Zero Nation?

Last week the renewables industry gathered in Newport at RenewableUK Cymru’s Future Energy Wales. RUK’s Shadow Board Members reflect on key takeaways from the event plus what lies ahead for Wales as it works to realise its net zero ambitions.

Day 1 of the conference was dedicated to floating offshore wind. As The Crown Estate embarks on its current 4GW Celtic Sea leasing round, discussions focused on delivery and securing the right benefits from floating offshore wind for Wales.

Points of note were on the crucial need for grid and port infrastructure upgrades, and those all-important supply chain development opportunities:

  • Anticipatory investment is crucial for both ports and grid and these must be treated as vital assets to unlock the delivery of floating wind in the Celtic Sea. Without these, the industry simply cannot deliver.

  • Ports require a blend of funding, lease certainty and clear signals regarding the pipeline to come. Government, developers and The Crown Estate all have roles here to unlock that troublesome ‘chicken and egg’ cycle.

  • Of course, enhancing existing assets and further developing a local supply chain will be essential as global demand for offshore wind services grows. Wales has the ability to deliver, not only for Wales but also for the world. The message was clear – aim big and aim high!

  • One panel discussed their ‘golden ticket’ asks and conversely their ‘biggest fears’ regarding supply chain development. The responses were, in part, unsurprising – messages around port and grid development were reinforced and featured heavily throughout.

  • However, there were broader considerations around how best smaller businesses across Wales could be supported to enter the floating wind market and realise its full potential. Themes here included:

    • Recognise that all have a role in raising awareness: developers, governments and suppliers

    • Broaden the pool of suppliers – don’t use the same list repeatedly – branch out

    • Greater collaboration e.g., via joint developer-industry events to communicate to the supply chain with one voice

    • Understand the local region and what it has to offer, the types of businesses, etc.

    • Undertake regular ‘softer’ engagement exercises to provide insights into the market, opportunities, to communicate timescales, services, and requirements – of course in addition to firm procurement opportunities

    • Utilise local supply chain clusters and be a part of these to support growth

RUK Shadow Board team of Helen K Thomas, Kerry Hayes and Julia Roope at Future Energy Wales 2022

Day 2 focused on onshore wind and hydrogen – other important technologies for net zero success in Wales. Key points included:

  • The Welsh Government plans to set-up a publicly owned renewable energy developer, to deliver on its aims to have more than 1 GW of locally owned generation by 2040. This primarily relates to onshore renewables and will help secure further local benefits for Wales.

  • Community involvement is also essential to support project engagement and to ensure the social and economic benefits are realised at the local level.

  • The consenting process needs to be streamlined with consenting bodies and statutory consultees appropriately resourced.

  • The public are starting to ask for community benefit requirements to focus more around decarbonisation projects – a win-win!

  • Whole system thinking is needed to integrate hydrogen into Wales’ net zero future.

  • It’s important to explore the synergies and lessons learnt between onshore, fixed, floating and hydrogen – in terms of supply chain development, benefit capture and wherever relevant, technological innovation.

There was a clear conclusion from across the two days - that achieving a net zero nation is vital in the world we are currently in – with renewables providing the cheap, secure, low carbon energy needed.

With thanks to the team at RenewableUK Cymru for their hard work in organising the event, which will be back again next year to further the narrative of delivering a Net Zero Wales.


Regional Snapshot: Wales – an important, historic energy region

To help build on one of Renewable UK’s strategy focal points: ‘Regions of the UK’, RUK’s Shadow Board plans to compliment regional events and activities with regular blogs to help highlight just what’s great about the various corners of our country.

Given the topical Future Energy Wales Conference in this instance, we decided to kick things off by highlighting a bit about Wales’ energy past, plus its ambitions for the future.

A bit of history

Wales is no stranger to renewable energy generation, with the UK’s first major pumped storage power facility - Ffestiniog Power Station in North Wales (owned by Engie) commissioned in 1963. Today, the power station’s four generating units are still capable of achieving a combined output of 360MW of electricity - enough to supply the entire power needs of North Wales for several hours.

Continuing the theme with pumped hydro, although ‘a predecessor of modern hydropower’, Dinorwig, also in North Wales and owned by First Hydro Company (a division of Engie), was built in an old slate quarry in Elidir Mountain in the 1970s. To this day, the power plant plays a crucial role for the National Grid, providing fast response when needed by releasing water from its upper reservoir energy before pumping it back up again from the lower reservoir when there is surplus energy in the grid (usually at night).

Wales is also home to over ten hydro-electric power stations such as the Dolgarrog site operated by RWE and originally built in 1907 as part of an aluminium smelting plant.

Throughout the years, the country has additionally hosted its fair share of conventional fossil fuel plants, with up to 16 coal and 8 gas or co-fired gas plants (including CHP and biogas), of which 7 of the latter still remain ‘fired up’ today. The most recent (and final) coal plant to be decommissioned in Wales was Aberthaw located in the Vale of Glamorgan in 2020.

Looking forward

Today the energy mix in Wales looks quite different and continues to change for the better with approximately 27% of electricity generation coming from renewables, with much of the rest still generated by gas fuelled power stations. There are:

  • Over 30 onshore wind farms (either operational or progressing through development), owned and/or operated by the likes of RWE, Falck, SKM and RES

  • 3 fixed offshore wind farms including the 576MW Gwynt y Mor site owned and operated by RWE and;

  • 1,119MWh of solar energy produced to date

In 2017, the Welsh Government announced a target of meeting 70% of Wales’ electricity demand from Welsh renewable electricity sources by 2030 – a target being rapidly progressed.

Looking forward, there are so many opportunities for a decarbonised Wales - a country with a heavy mining and industrial background, and there is much more work to do. The exciting growth of renewables is clear: with fixed offshore developments in the pipeline, such as RWE’s Awel y Môr (extension to Gwynt yMôr); and BP/EnBW’s Morgan and Mona projects (as winners of Round 4); in addition to The Crown Estate’s Celtic Sea leasing round for floating offshore wind in South Wales, further building on Wales’ first floating wind initiative - Blue Gem Wind’s 100 MW Erebus project. And there is an even bigger picture to develop. That picture is focused around the huge potential for industrial decarbonisation from Pembroke Docks to Deeside in Flintshire, using renewable energy not only to meet electricity demand targets but to unlock further decarbonisation potential and a vision that can no doubt become a reality for a Net Zero Wales.

With its energy history, Wales can be spurred on towards a fully net zero future - utilising experience gained from hosting the earliest forms of renewable generation, combined with knowledge and lessons learnt from more conventional types of energy. The country certainly has a real opportunity to lead the way through the energy transition and beyond!


About RenewableUK’s 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: electrical engineering, project management, law, marketing, asset management, business development, supply chain development, environmental management and public affairs.

About the Authors

Helen K Thomas - RUK Shadow Board Member and Senior Supply Chain Manager, RWE

Helen is a Senior Supply Chain Manager at RWE Renewables. Her work is focused around furthering the company’s engagement activities with businesses and others across Wales and the wider UK. A key focus of Helen’s role is building effective relationships with the supply chain, improving tier-to-tier interactions and raising awareness of industry needs. Helen also liaises with key political stakeholders updating them on RWE’s project progress and lobbying for change in the supply chain, ports and manufacturing spaces – all with the aim of increasing local benefit.

Helen has led the Offshore Wind Industry Council (OWIC) Supply Chain Workstream since 2019, helping to deliver on Sector Deal targets and during her time at RWE, has been instrumental in establishing a new supply chain cluster in the North Wales, North West region called The Offshore Energy Alliance.

Before joining RWE, Helen worked as a Policy Manager for Energy UK and prior to that, produced research publications on energy system topics at Imperial College London. She has a BSc in Environmental Management and a First Class MSc in Renewable Energy Engineering. Helen is passionate about achieving a diverse, skilled future workforce for the industry and is using her recent Future Leader Award status to mentor other upcoming industry leaders.

Julia Roope - RUK Shadow Board Member and Global Business Development Manager Offshore Wind, Fugro

Julia is the Global Business Development Manager for Offshore Wind at leading Geo-data specialist Fugro. Her role is focused on using her industry knowledge and commercial expertise to help the company grow its offshore wind business around the world.

Prior to joining Fugro she worked as a Marine Scientist, managing surveys for offshore infrastructure and environmental projects. She has a First Class integrated Masters degree in Oceanography.

Julia has worked with the DeepWind Cluster as Co-chair of the Floating Offshore Wind Subgroup to provide a greater focus on floating offshore wind, to deliver additional value to its members and promote benefits to the supply chain from the development of floating offshore wind both in the UK and internationally.

Julia is passionate about diversity in the industry and acts as a mentor for women in renewable energy through the Regen REWiRE programme.



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