North England and Scotland poised to drive UK’s offshore renewables

A new audit of the offshore renewable energy industry in the North of England and Scotland has identified strong economic and job growth opportunities the region can make for the UK.

The Offshore Renewable Energy Science and Innovation Audit (SIA) highlights the area’s world-class research in the field of offshore renewable energy, strong supply chain, various innovation programs and strong collaborations between industry and academia, Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult said.

The audit looked at the offshore renewable energy sector at major ports in the North East, Tees Valley, Humber and Liverpool local enterprise partnership areas and Scotland.

This SIA focused on the international competitiveness of the research and innovation activities in Northern England and Scotland in offshore renewable energy, the future needs in innovation and the skilled workforce in the sector.

Analyzing the growth opportunities for the region, SIA report found the increase in investment in the Humber region could potentially be replicated where offshore renewables activity is due to grow, for example around the Moray Firth, and advance planning for this can allow for planned wind, wave and tidal sites to factor such hubs of expertise into innovation and cost reduction plans.

When it comes to the region’s ability to meet the current and future needs of the ORE sector, the survey found that there is currently no clear route to market for innovative companies developing solutions in tidal and wave energy, as there is no ring-fenced for Difference (CfD) auction pot for these maturing technologies.

“The existing momentum in development of wave and tidal solutions should be encouraged through providing a route to market in the UK via appropriate support schemes and by creating links at government level with overseas governments in order to share the cost of technology development. This will also create a natural base for building export capability and unlocking the full potential of wave and tidal energy to add significantly to UK GVA,” the report states.

The audit found that tidal stream energy, being at an earlier stage of development than offshore wind, still has arguably more potential for primary construction in the UK.

The academic research in ORE in the region was found to be world-class in terms of both quality and volume with a number of universities in the area with centers of excellence in, or with close ties to, the field of offshore renewables.

The SIA report highlighted the need for stronger focus on convening engagement between academic research and industry to ensure needs are identified and addressed and appropriate academic and commercial-level funding is made available for the emerging priorities.

This could be achieved through a focused program of innovation support for companies that draws on BEIS place-base funding, the audit suggests.

Also, the report proposes a systematic investigation of skill requirements and provision across the offshore renewable energy sector, that would lead to the development of a national skills roadmap for offshore renewables that could be implemented through partnership working including devolved powers.

The SIA audit also suggests the establishment of a new initiative to support subsea engineering which is a key enabler of offshore renewables. This should involve support for a small number of existing regional clusters of excellence to enable expensive capital testing facilities to be utilized and supported efficiently, according to the report.

Stephen Wyatt, Research & Innovation Director for ORE Catapult, said: “A strong science and research base in offshore renewable energy provides the support framework needed to allow UK businesses to flourish, creating jobs and economic benefit and attracting inward investment.

“Our ambition is for the UK to become world-leaders in innovation in key technology areas. Our strengths in robotics, artificial intelligence and composite materials, as well as our subsea engineering expertise, can see us take a leading role in areas such as floating wind, and in developing wave and tidal technology.”

Led by Newcastle University, and sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the project saw collaboration between Scottish Enterprise, the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, four Local Enterprise Partnerships and Durham, Liverpool and Hull Universities.

It was one of eight audits commissioned by the government to set out the UK’s advantages in key areas, and help regions map their research and innovation strengths and identify areas of potential global competitive advantage.

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