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Orkney - buzzing with marine energy development

Posted By Caroline Bragg, RenewableUK Policy Manager, 21 February 2017

Hoy is a hilly island off the Orkney mainland. The parishes of the island divide it in two – lumping one half together with the island to the south and one with the island to the north. It might seem strange to divide the island this way, but that is before you remember that it was once much easier to sail across a narrow channel to one of the other islands than cross over the hill in the middle.


The history of Orkney writes large the advantages of an economy based on water over land. Today, with our globalised and service-based economy driven by the South East of England, it can be hard to imagine the power of regional economies, driven by clever and sustainable uses of natural resources. Yet the world heritage stone circles, burial mounds and settlements on the islands are testament to the Kingdom of Orkney’s expansive and hugely significant prehistoric economy.


Regional growth and sustainable use of natural resources are back in mainstream policy thinking, key themes in the Government’s flagship industrial strategy. Officials thinking about how geography defines opportunities for economic growth, new industries, and local communities could do worse than visit the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney, as I did this week.


The islands are visibly buzzing with marine energy development: Orkney has some of the most powerful waves and tides in the world – sometimes reaching higher than a couple of double-decker buses. The largest tidal device in the world, Scotrenewables’ SR2000 was literally moments away from full commissioning. On Hatson Pier, you can see Tocardo, Wello, Sustainable Marine Energy tidal and wave devices all getting ready for the rough seas. Speaking to the local businesses that serve these projects, such as Green Marine, this season will be their busiest yet. The companies on these small islands are all striving to win a now global race to establish marine energy.


“Local supply chain” is a bland way to describe the very colourful businesses that surround marine energy in Orkney. For example, Leask Marine started off doing commercial diving for civil engineering and other sectors. Now, after diving on every one of the 27 devices that has come through EMEC, they’ve built themselves a fabrication yard and are manufacturing standardised components for future marine energy devices, based on the ten years they spent underwater working on the projects of today.  


Renewables companies here aren’t just developing wave and tidal technologies. Burgar Hill was one of the first test sites for onshore wind in the UK, when we still led the world in turbine development, and when onshore wind, now our cheapest power generation technology, was considered an expensive alternative. Today, just across from Burgar Hill, sits a wind farm with one of the most efficient turbines leading company ENERCON has ever sold. Orkney’s abundant natural resources mean that it produces 120% of its annual energy demand from renewables. This has made it well placed to innovate. It was a world-leader in energy system management, turning their wind turbines on and off by the second to balance demand and keep the lights on. In 2017, Orkney will be the first place ever to power ferries through hydrogen electrolysis. 


Technology innovation and changing markets are fundamentally altering the geography of our energy system and the industries that support it. Instead of being concentrated in oil rigs and large thermal power plants, our energy comes from places, people and projects nearer to us and where we live. Instead of sourcing our power from the North Sea and the Middle East, we are establishing new industrial clusters in Wales, the south west, the Isle of Wight and Solent and the Highlands and Islands. To most people, imagining what the global energy transition might mean for our infrastructure, our regions, and our businesses might look as strange as the parishes of Hoy Island. To the people living in Orkney, it looks perfectly normal. Maybe it’s time for the rest of the UK to look at things the islanders’ way.


(This blog first appeared in BusinessGreen)

Tags:  marine energy 

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25 Years of British Wind

Posted By Emma Pinchbeck, Executive Director, RenewableUK, 23 December 2016

This is the festive season in more ways than one. The 21st of December marked the 25th anniversary of the very first commercial wind farm built in the UK, in Cornwall. I’m writing this on the train returning from the birthday party at the site to mark this remarkable achievement. It’s been a moment for celebration and a chance for reflection. 


In the small Cornish village of Delabole, the local Edwards family acted as trailblazers for an entire industry when they single-handedly commissioned and completed a 10 turbine project on their own farmland. They learned from existing sites in Denmark, and battled for years to get project financing. The original ten turbine wind farm which stood at Delabole was able to power 2,700 homes. In 2011, its new owner, Good Energy, upgraded the site, replacing the older turbines with just four new ones, which, on a smaller land footprint, can power an estimated 6,200 homes. 


This first commercial project has played a symbolic role for the wind industry, along with a central one for the community. Good Energy remains an active participant in local life by, for example, providing discounts on electricity bills and contributing over £10,000 a year to a community fund, which is controlled by a local committee and used to support community initiatives. The committee has allocated grants to a wide range of local community groups and projects, including St Piran’s playschool for an outdoor play area and willow shelter, Delabole Football Club for a new kit, Delabole Allotment Society for new fencing, and the village cricket club for solar PV on the clubhouse roof. Today, Good Energy staff spent the morning delivering birthday cards and presents to villagers, as a thank you for a quarter of a century of support for their local wind farm.


To think 25 years has already passed since Delabole was built, and 30 since it was planned, is amazing. On a personal note, it means that the UK’s commercial wind sector and I are almost the same age – we’ve grown up together. The turbines at Delabole were the first steps on the way to the £19 billion British onshore wind sector I now work in.


Everything has changed since 1991. Innovation and experience have sent costs plummeting, and have improved technology, faster than anyone could have predicted. 

The turbines originally installed at Delabole had a capacity of 400 kilowatts; in 2016, we’re building onshore wind farms with turbines of 3.45 megawatts apiece: that’s over eight times more powerful than 25 years ago. And progress in offshore wind has been just as spectacular, 8-megawatt machines now being built at the Burbo Bank Extension in Liverpool Bay.


It's worth comparing the early days of wind technology to that other great intervention in 1991: the dawn of the World Wide Web in Tim Berners-Lee's laboratory. It's taken some time for the technology to develop - but renewables have exploded into a multi-billion dollar global market, and have the same potential to disrupt the way consumers use power as smart phones have changed the way we communicate. 

In the past 10 years alone, British onshore and offshore wind have gone from supplying 1% of the UK’s electricity to 12% last year. The figures for 2016, coming out soon, will be even greater. Wind is a mainstream energy technology now, and modest estimates expect that it will be generating 20% of the UK’s electricity by 2020. This year, the Government's own numbers highlighted wind as the cheapest form of new power generation in the country. 

Today there is still a strong onshore wind construction pipeline in the UK. This year alone we’ve built 650 megawatts of new capacity and we expect to build at least the same in 2017. That means that onshore wind will soon pass the 10 gigawatt milestone, by which point it will be powering six million British homes.


This extraordinary, pioneering technology deserves a strong future in Britain, but recent policy changes have made the environment uncertain. This is a shame, at a time when the global transition to renewable power is now beyond doubt, and when flexible and decentralised energy generation is set to deliver the full potential of other changes to how we use energy in the UK. The government's push for electric vehicles, smart technology, and exciting developments in storage, all benefit from a diverse, decarbonised energy mix. 


The progress of onshore wind in this country over the past 25 years is an extraordinary achievement. Today it is a modern British success story, offering cheap, clean electricity to millions of homes, offices and factories. The next 25 years of British wind development have the potential to do even more for the UK, and we must do all we can to support its future. Happy Birthday to Delabole wind farm - and here's to a happy new year for renewables. 


(This blog first appeared in BusinessGreen) 

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Yorkshire leads the way in Britain’s industrial regrowth

Posted By RenewableUK Chief Executive Hugh McNeal, 02 December 2016

It’s great to be in Hull. Many of us have been looking forward to the official opening of Siemens’ state of the art offshore wind turbine plant for a long time. It’s the moment when years of hard work by Siemens, working with energetic and tenacious local people, the city council and national government, and many others with the same irrepressible, innovative vision has come to fruition. This is a key part of Britain’s industrial strategy for the future, building on Yorkshire’s proud manufacturing history.    


The unprecedented investment of £160 million in a world-class turbine blade production and installation facilities at Alexandra Dock represents a massive stride forward for the UK’s offshore wind industry and for the Humber region. The combined investment from Siemens and Associated British Ports of £310 million in Green Port Hull will create a thousand direct jobs. Seven hundred people have already been recruited, nearly all from the local area. And there will be more jobs to come during the construction phase as well as in the supply chain. The positive effect on local people is wide-ranging - I met a former Asda store manager who now runs a digital media business – he filmed the construction of the Siemens factory. Offshore wind is a rapidly expanding sector touching all parts of the UK’s economy.


What’s happening here in East Yorkshire is a prime example of how modern industrial regrowth can happen around Britain. Siemens is one of many trailblazers making investments in the sector right across the UK. In the last few weeks, JDR Cables in Hartlepool announced that it’s won a major contract to design and manufacture subsea power cables for what will be the world’s biggest offshore wind farm, DONG Energy's Hornsea Project One, to be built a hundred and twenty kilometres off the East Yorkshire coast. DONG will have invested £6 billion in the Humber region by the end of the decade.

Just last week in Belfast, Harland and Wolff secured a big deal to supply steel foundations to an offshore wind farm off the Suffolk coast. Last month, MHI Vestas Offshore Wind on the Isle of Wight announced it needs seventy extra workers to manufacture turbine blades. CS Wind at Campbeltown in Scotland is recruiting a hundred and sixty more staff – it will be manufacturing massive turbine towers for Siemens as well as other international companies.


These announcements show that offshore wind developers are committed to maximising the amount of locally-made kit in their projects, to ensure that we reap the economic benefits of renewable energy. The offshore wind industry is bringing well over £20 billion in investment to Britain over the course of this decade, creating thousands of new jobs, from apprentices taking their first steps into high-tech, to experienced workers making the transition from the oil and gas sector into renewables. This is happening across the UK, from Liverpool to Lowestoft and from the Isle of Wight to the Isle of Mull, and of course right here in Yorkshire. Given the number of east coast offshore wind farms, and the number of companies already based here, Yorkshire is well-placed to benefit from the renewables revolution. Across the UK similar investments have the power to transform the lives of those who benefit from them, helping to regenerate communities and fulfil potential which might otherwise have gone unrealised.


The UK is proud to be the global leader in offshore wind. We’ve been learning by building more offshore wind projects than any other country. We’re exporting our expertise around the world. British companies have already won a hundred and fifteen contracts (worth up to £30 million apiece) for fifty offshore wind projects abroad. There are two hundred and fifty offshore wind farms at the development stage internationally, representing a massive economic and industrial opportunity for the UK. This summer, we worked with the Government to bring a delegation from China here to learn about offshore wind. Then in the autumn, we took a group of UK companies to China to do business. We’re going global. Offshore wind is a great British success story so we should celebrate it, as we are doing today in Hull, because Yorkshire is leading the way.

(This blog first appeared in the Yorkshire Post)

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Britain can benefit enormously from exporting offshore wind

Posted By Maf Smith, 02 November 2016
The recent signing of the Paris Agreement commits the world to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C this century. This unique and ambitious accord puts the focus on each country’s collective ability to wean itself off our traditional reliance on fossil fuels. The agreement also comes into force this Friday, which is good timing since the wind industry is hosting its annual Offshore Wind Week around the country. The week is designed to show that the offshore wind industry is ready to lend a hand (or blade) to ensure the UK can power its future in an economic and sustainable way.

In the space of only a few years, offshore wind has made great strides forward. In the UK, turbines at sea now provide over 5% of all our electricity. On top of that, everything that is currently being built in British waters will get us up to 10% by 2020. That’s the equivalent of around eight million homes.

By any standard, that’s a success story. Offshore wind is still a developing industry, but we are already in a position to benefit from exporting our years of expertise abroad. In Europe, the major market outside the UK is Germany, which is home to 30% of the continent’s offshore capacity. China and the USA also have plans to make serious inroads into the market, with the latter having recently built its first wind farm off the coast of New Jersey.

China currently has around one fifth of the UK’s offshore wind capacity, but its plans are to expand to a massive 30 gigawatts over the next decade (the UK currently leads the world with five gigawatts). There has already been progress on establishing a relationship between our two countries to develop Chinese offshore wind. In July, RenewableUK and the UK Government helped bring a delegation of senior figures from China to the UK to learn about our industry. Last month we took a group of UK companies to China to do business.



Our analysis shows that UK companies are already winning a substantial amount of work to provide offshore wind services on foreign projects, and that there is a huge amount to come. British companies, from the very small to large, are being called on to provide essential services, such as supporting construction work, or installing cables.

This blog first appeared in The Grimsby Telegraph.

Tags:  Offshore Wind Exports 

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Do Renewables “work for Britain”? - Conservative Party Conference 2016

Posted By Chief Executive Hugh McNeal, 11 October 2016

As a former civil servant, this year’s Conservative Party Conference was the first I have ever attended. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Soon after arriving in Birmingham it became clear to me that conference is a strange, condensed version of the hubbub of Westminster – journalists, MPs, Ministers, activists and protesters corralled into the centre of Birmingham rushing between speeches, events and hurried meetings, all the while tweeting non-stop.

Beyond the baptism of a Party Conference, I really wanted to learn more about our new Ministerial team in BEIS (the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) and where their thinking is now, after this extraordinary summer, as well as taking the opportunity to meet with other MPs and stakeholders.


What I heard from the BEIS Ministers was encouraging for renewable energy companies. Far from downgrading the ambition for low carbon, I heard Ministers who were genuinely excited about the industrial opportunities, innovation, consumer benefits and employment coming from our renewable energy businesses.


After speaking on a panel with Baroness Neville-Rolfe, it’s clear we have an Energy Minister who knows her brief and – from her background in business – understands the importance of innovation, entrepreneurship and disruptive technologies. As the Baroness said, there’s no lack of innovation in the energy market and the challenge for Government is, to an extent, making sure the market encourages and rewards those successful technologies. I shared with the Minister the experience of some of entrepreneurial RenewableUK member companies who have grown from start-ups to world-beaters or diversified into renewables and haven’t looked back.


There was endless recycling of the formula of the Conference slogan ‘a country that works for everyone’ – some were more humorous than others. It was clear, however, that for our Energy Minister ‘an energy market that works for everyone’ will be more than just a slogan. Cost is and will always be central to energy policy. The Minister is clear that subsidy should be time limited and degressive. Any interventions into the energy market that add to bills require very clear justification. All in all, I would say there were three elements that I kept hearing about – affordability, industrial contribution and innovation. I think we are well placed to make arguments on all three.



The technologies I represent will be sustainable in the long term only if we help consumers manage costs. We’re seeing incredible falls in the cost of offshore wind and onshore wind has gone even further and is now the cheapest option for new electricity in the UK. But we know that onshore wind has often been contentious. There were communities where some people felt they weren’t being listened to and developments were being imposed on them.  That local anger translated into a successful campaign by backbench Conservative MPs which ultimately closed the subsidy regime to onshore wind and has given local communities control over planning for new wind developments.


Subsidies are not coming back for onshore wind. And the industry is not asking for them.


The challenge we have now is figuring out what market signals and mechanisms we have that will allow onshore to compete and consumers benefit from the cheapest source of new power. Others at Conference were talking about this too. The Taxpayers’ Alliance and Citizens Advice debated this issue and flagged the need to prioritise cost to the consumer. As I’ve argued previously the lowest cost projects where the wind resource is strongest are unlikely to be in England and that remains the case.


Industrial contribution

I am so proud to represent member companies that employ over a quarter of a million people. Given the right policy environment we can continue to see that grow - a point I made across many of the meetings I had. It was great to see our new Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark listing clean energy as one of the UK’s industrial strengths, and we need to continue to demonstrate the role our technologies can play in contributing to the UK. Whether it is in offshore wind, where I was proud to talk about the export contracts companies as diverse as 3Sun and Hutchinson are winning contracts or the potential in our world leading wave and tidal industries. It was also reassuring to see Dr Clark talk about how different regions have different needs, given the contribution we can make to spreading development across the UK.


The MP for Wells James Heappey made an interesting argument that the heat and noise of the recent review of the Hinkley Point deal had actually helped to move the national conversation about energy onto new ground. While some of that debate was not always constructive, there is truth in Mr Heappey’s insight. For the first time I can remember, the press and the public engaged in a national conversation about the difficult choices Government have to keep the lights on for the next 5, 10, 20 and even 50 years. That conversation on the difficult choices continued in Birmingham. My counterpart at EnergyUK, Lawrence Slade, summed up the transformation of the power sector and the opportunities that are opening up when he said “with energy, we’re seeing the digitisation of the one of the last analogue industries”.



From the development of small wind, to the recent tidal energy development by Meygen, RenewableUK’s members have often led the way in technological advances. It was good to see this celebrated in the Tidal Lagoon Power fringe which also talked about the huge industrial potential from this project.


Innovation was also the watchword when it came to storage, a topic which came up across several fringes. It’s clear just how exciting an opportunity this is, and how interested Government is in it. It has been very welcome to me to see what strides my membership is making in this area.


Overall, my first visit to Conservative Party Conference was reassuring. RenewableUK’s member companies and technologies embody many of the values discussed at the Conference – entrepreneurship, risk-taking, disrupting the market for the better. Our members are delivering innovative solutions for a rapidly changing Britain and creating employment; achievements which should be at the heart of a new industrial strategy. These companies and technologies are redefining the conversation on energy and industry. From my time in Birmingham, it’s clear to me that Government is open to that new conversation.


(This blog first appeared in BusinessGreen)

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