Economic growth from renewable energy


Andrew Jamieson explains how the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult aims to propel the UK to a leading position in the developing offshore wind, wave and tidal energy business sectors

The Technology Strategy Board’s Catapult programme has created seven technology and innovation centres where technical and commercial knowledge will help the very best UK businesses, scientists and engineers build on research and development – transforming ideas and early stage work into viable products and services. They will transform the UK’s innovation capability for the long term and represent over £1bn of private and public sector investment over the next few years.

 The Catapult programme comes from the UK Government approaching innovation in a way that hasn’t been done for many years. It recognises that we have a world-class domestic industrial base, small and medium sized businesses and academia. But historically we have not been good at joining up the parts to realise their full potential.

I head up the Glasgow-based Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, helping the UK seize the opportunity to lead the world in offshore wind, wave and tidal electricity production. In the process we will generate substantial economic growth, jobs and exports, and help the country increase low-carbon, affordable generation.

The costs of wave energy converters, such as this Oyster unit on test at EMEC in Orkney, are reducing

The ORE Catapult is a critical element of a shared vision in which government, industry and the supply chain all have vital roles to play. There is a need to learn commercial lessons from other sectors, such as the offshore oil and gas, aerospace and automotive industries, and deliver consistent, joined up thinking to provide investor confidence and maximise installed offshore renewable energy capacity and the resulting economic, social and environmental benefits.

We are a wind-battered island, so clearly offshore renewable energy is one of the key tools for the UK to meet its carbon reduction targets. But the Government is clear: today’s cost of offshore power needs to be reduced substantially, by approximately 30-40% by 2020 in the case of offshore wind.

Twenty years ago, we led the world in the development of onshore renewable energy technology. A failure to invest in the industry at that time meant that other countries overtook us and to this day they dominate the global market.

The UK has the world’s largest targets for offshore wind. That affords us the first mover opportunity to lead the world in offshore renewable energy technology deployment and know-how, potentially creating an industry that will not only generate tens of thousands of jobs in engineering, manufacturing, installation, maintenance and operations services, but also contribute many billions of pounds to the UK economy in taxes and exports, possibly of the electricity itself, but particularly of the technologies and engineering know-how that go with it.

We have a massive opportunity to build a world-leading capability, just as the oil and gas sector has done over the past few decades.

Renewable energy is still relatively new, with challenges around costs, and that applies particularly to offshore. However, solving this is achievable by allowing innovation to thrive – focusing on common standards, scale on manufacturing and delivery.

The ORE Catapult works closely with academia and companies from manufacturers and owners of power plants to small businesses – to de-risk innovation and have it adopted more quickly. We are creating a centre of excellence with deep technological and engineering expertise, and are recruiting over 100 experienced engineers and technologists over the next couple of years, people with knowledge of what it takes to get a project or a technology to market.

We will not be issuing capital grants, but will provide leadership, access and connectivity, engineering and technical expertise, to assist the growth and development of technical solutions.

I’m clear we have a huge role to play in enabling the entire UK offshore renewables sector – wind, wave and tidal – to realise its full economic potential.

Mr Jamieson is the CEO of the ORE Catapult. More information can be downloaded from here.