Scott Duncan, North East Membership and External Affairs Manager for the EEF, reflects on how the region is involved in some pioneering initiatives.
This year has seen a raft of activity from Government on industrial strategy, energy policy and the low carbon transition. The North East continues to play its part in delivering the Government’s ambitions in this area by supporting the diverse energy mix today, as well as bringing together innovative businesses to deliver leading-edge opportunities as the low carbon agenda grows.
So what were the big announcements for industry and energy in 2017? January saw the launch of the Industrial Strategy green paper, which set out ‘Affordable energy and clean growth’ as one of its 10 pillars to deliver a thriving UK industry. In October, we finally saw the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS).
This will be built on further now the full Industrial Strategy has been launched in November, which saw the Government invest up to £360m of new investment to maximise the advantages for UK industry from the global shift to clean growth, through leading the world in the development, manufacture and use of low carbon technologies, systems and services that cost less than high carbon alternatives.
The long-awaited independent energy review by Professor Helm was also published, to get a grip on improving the affordability of energy for domestic and business consumers. Whilst dealing with current uncompetitive energy costs is a priority, government and energy regulator Ofgem is also looking to the future, by launching the ‘Smart, flexible energy plan’. This plan is a joint strategy to deliver the new opportunities that ‘smart energy’ can bring to UK homes and businesses, including to improve affordability. These initiatives are just the tip of the iceberg, and far more is going on under the water to support these high level ambitions.
Whilst these big announcements caught the headline, it’s worth reflecting on some of the pioneering initiatives that the North East is contributing to the UK’s industrial strategy and ambitions for the low carbon transition.
In much the same way that the North East led the world in the development of engineering innovation during the Industrial Revolution with Stephenson’s Rocket, Swan’s electric light bulb and Armstrong’s first hydro-electrically lit home, it is doing so again as a test bed for low carbon passenger vehicle technology. The region is now leading the way in the UK with EV charging networks, battery powered vehicles and a transport infrastructure that promotes reducing our carbon footprint and in doing so tackling one of the most significant environmental challenges.
Home to leading firms like Nissan, Europe’s most productive car plant, manufacturing the electric Nissan LEAF with EV battery production also in Sunderland under the new ownership of GSR Capital following the sale by Nissan earlier this year; as well as Hitachi in Newton Aycliffe producing the next generation of electric and b-mode trains. The region is also home to significant academic research into low carbon vehicle and fuel cell technology, with all five of its universities carrying out research into LCV technology pushing the boundaries of knowledge and innovation. The FE sector also contributing, with Gateshead College training the next generation of skilled worker required to manufacture low carbon vehicles.
Outside of automotive, the energy sector is growing fast in the region, with businesses and supply chains tapping into opportunities and expertise in oil and gas, subsea and marine technology and engineering, and offshore renewables. The region reflects the diversity in energy supply that the government is trying to achieve, in baseload, intermittent renewable, and flexible generation.
In the Tees Valley, you can find Hartlepool nuclear power station, onshore and offshore wind farms as well as biomass and gas plants at Wilton.
Indeed the Combined Authority in the area is looking to develop a comprehensive Low Carbon Industrial Strategy for the Tees Valley – a long term plan for decarbonising industrial and related supply chain activity and to provide a carbon budget for the region which can be achieved over the short, medium and longer term.
There is already a Teesside Collective, a cluster of businesses looking to deploy Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) technology for industrial applications in the region by 2030. The Clean Growth Strategy set out Government’s commitment to spend £100m from the BEIS Energy Innovation Programme to support Industry and CCUS innovation. This included £20m for a CCU demonstration programme. Government’s committed to creating a new Minister-led CCUS Council, indicating we hope a renewed commitment to deliver CCS as an affordable opportunity for decarbonisation, would help build the UK’s competitiveness, whilst supporting UK industry to contribute to the low carbon agenda.
There is clear interest in the North East, so is certainly an area to watch as the government’s decarbonisation plans progress.