The Humber can lead on Renewables but the competition is fierce

Everyone across the Humber Region is willing the Renewables industry to reverse local economic trends and generate jobs; for the Humber to become the Aberdeen of clean energy. The champagne is on ice for when the Siemens project is given the final go-ahead and then, the 10,000 turbines offshore will start to be assembled and move out to the biggest wind farms in the world. Let’s get real. We are running away with the Renewables League before a ball has been kicked and, quite a lot of other places are having a better pre-season.

Last November in a Report by PwC commissioned by the City of Aberdeen, Jonathan Roger, Centrica Energy CEO, is quoted as saying that the Renewable industry has yet to centre itself anywhere and the Report goes on to conclude that this is Aberdeen’s opportunity. I was in Norway a couple of weeks ago and, whilst they do not have anything like the domestic wind market they do see themselves as challenging for the work. The same is true in Holland and Germany with stronger logistics and manufacturing skills already in place. Back in the UK, Newcastle is building momentum and the first turbine training centre is already up there. The point is that the Humber needs to wake up and smell the competition.

The Humber can win this race. First off, The Humber is the best location with near access to the three major wind farms out in the North Sea and there are green shoots in other renewable areas but, if we are not careful, we could be the best shop on the Renewables high street – with empty shelves.

The Neptune Proteus harnesses the tides

  1. The Humber means business. By 2050, global population will have climbed from 7 to 9 billion – which is a good argument for an energy mix beyond fossil fuels. More to the point, 75% of these people will live in 50 City Regions. In other words look out of a plane by night and down on the Humber in 2050 and you will not see the unitary borders between Hull; the East Riding; North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire. You will see a single estuary lit by renewable energy. You will see a Humber Region connected by a Humber Bridge and home to the Humber Port – the UKs biggest. In Scandinavia, the Region of Oresund straddles the south of Sweden and part of Denmark. Connected by a bridge; it is fast becoming one of Europe’s most successful regions – after centuries of wars and tribal suspicion. It is time to believe in Brand Humber and move away from a better yesterday.
  2. Renewables matter. The good news is that the UKs long term Energy Security means that we need an energy mix combining both fossil fuels and renewable energy sources. Despite what UKIP and other sceptics moan Thomas Edison – the inventor of the electric light bulb – said back in the 1930s that we need to put our money into Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy – sun, wind and tide. Right now coal, oil and gas make money and renewables are in the mix because of subsidy. This is no different to Edison who failed with 3,000 experiments before the electric light bulb was viable. The Humber could be at the forefront of efforts to map the renewables supply chain and drop the costs by 30 to 40%. This means innovation – leading the next industrial revolution and, this will come about through closer links between industry and our university and colleges. We have to compare with and then beat the best and we have to get moving.
  3. Smart City. The Neptune Proteus tidal stream energy device supplies electricity to The Deep, Hull’s iconic visitor attraction and research centre. The yellow Neptune Proteus device is moored 60 metres offshore with buoyancy tanks sustaining fascinating gadgetry which harnesses the gravitational pull on sea levels around our coastlines to convert ebb and flood currents into grid-synchronised high-voltage electricity. This tidal stream energy is ideal for shallow water estuarine locations and more cost effective and consistent than wind energy. The GWE Biogas plant in Driffield uses gas produced from food waste to generate electricity rather than send it to a landfill site. Energy Works, a 25 MW power station fuelled by wood chip moving to urban waste is the brainchild of Hull firm Spencer Engineering and could be the first of many.  The Humber is not short of ideas on power generation and this know-how can only benefit from the Humber Brand.
  4. Smart Homes. We need to accelerate the use of smart meters in the home – it will drop energy use by up to 15% and even more in areas with a higher level of unpaid bills. The Humber is home to many ideas in smart homes and several buildings champion a range of technologies. Then, there is the potential to use hydropnic growing techniques – using mineral nutrients in water rather than soil and under energy efficient glass – to stack the shelves in local shops with local produce and supply our homes.
  5. Green Supply Chains. We need to build on the excellent work of the Renewables Network in building the platform for SMEs to work with the wider market. Then, we need to explore green solutions. The Clean Green Pallet is one of several inventions from Humber based companies that reduce the carbon footprint. Others include innovations in construction and, the drive for affordable homes – the caravan industry needs to be backed to enter the race to provide the homes for disaster areas and, frontier markets alike. We are working on this in India and, we are using techniques developed in the food industry in Grimsby.
  6. Skills. None of this can happen without a skilled workforce. This means a revolution in the schools; the workplace and the unemployment queues. Back in the 1930s the Peabody Trust said that the unemployed are not like some commodity you stick in a fridge and take out when you want them. We will have to invest and deliver the jobs to go to. Let’s go for more than the renewables will generate. Why not aim to be the new kid on the block training people for all energy projects – and support skills like ports and light manufacturing? After all, we will learn fast that the wages in offshore wind will not match those on offer elsewhere. We need to diversify from renewables. This means a focus on manufacturing – products and processes not just the power that drives the machinery.
  7. Go global. Over 80% of wind power business is generated by 10 global players – including Siemens. All of these firms world globally and the Humber Renewables network has to be ready to do the same. Why work with a company that can serve you in one market when you are working in dozens? The same applies for all energy sectors. And, this global dimension can help the Humber become a centre for 3D printing or additive manufacturing – literally building up components by printing layer after layer of material.

Last November, Aberdeen concluded that as North Sea oil fades they will be faced with a stark choice – managed decline or, to become the talent hub for the renewable industry. They want to build a Skills Academy.

They say that 50% of the jobs of the future have yet to be invented. Here’s the Humber challenge – to build the Deep again! This time – for all things to do with the world of work; a place where the simulators that train pilots or the animation that goes into video games are used to train people on everything from trucks to cranes to offshore oil rigs and wind turbines.

This stunning building is where young people will take their first step on a career path; the experienced will be upgraded and the unemployed re-trained. Above all, digital technology designed on the Humber will be used to harness the potential of Humber people and, take that elsewhere. This World of Work building can be the catalyst for the Humber brand and, a platform for global reach for Humber based products; research and training.

Einstein once said that it was a sign of madness to do things in the same way but to expect a different result. We have some extraordinary schools for the future; our University and the Colleges have excellent facilities. We need something to pull the world of work together – leading edge digital technology to simulate supply chains and the different energy mix needed as oil and gas prices rise and, an inspirational environment where the young and old can learn new skills. This is the way to grab the headlines and let the world know that the Humber means business on the Energy of the future. If we don’t do this somewhere else will.

This article appeared in the Hull Daily Mail and other Trade Magazines on May 4th. 


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