Catching the trade winds

Windpower could boost the North East as the region prepares to service the burgeoning industry, creating thousands of new jobs. Andrew Lee reports


Rapid growth in offshore wind power could boost the North East of England’s manufacturing sector and help establish the region as a skills hub for renewable energy, the government has claimed.

Ministers hope the increasing number of offshore wind devices springing up around the UK’s coast will encourage the parallel development of a domestic manufacturing sector and a skilled workforce to support it.

Up to 3,000 offshore turbines will be needed to meet the UK’s renewable targets, and the government wants as many as possible made here rather than imported.

Energy minister Malcolm Wicks claimed up to 30,000 production jobs could be created in the North East and a potential £3bn of inward investment is up for grabs if the area successfully establishes itself as a wind energy hub, using existing assets such as the riverside assembly facilities that are the legacy of its heritage in shipbuilding.

As well as serving domestic demand for wind turbines, the sector offers significant export potential. The burgeoning global demand for turbines is leading to a backlog as the manufacturing infrastructure struggles to keep up with orders.

The North East’s fledgling offshore wind economy received a boost when Clipper Windpower, a major US renewable energy group, chose the region as the development base for what it claims will be the world’s largest wind turbine, the 7.5MW MBE prototype.

Clipper has established a Centre of Excellence for Offshore Wind at Blyth, where the US group’s engineers will work closely with the New and Renewable Energy Centre (NAREC) located in the Northumbria town.

Narec is the focus of the region’s ambitions in research into wind, marine, photovoltaics and other renewable energy technologies. It is already creating training and skills programmes geared towards the needs of the wind energy sector. For example, it recently reached an agreement with utilities training specialist Safety Technology to offer safety training and certification courses for the wind industry.

Safety Technology plans to use Narec’s specialist facilities to train engineers and wind turbine operators in the specific skills needed by the industry — not least the ability to work safely at height.

The company claimed the industry is ‘crying out for more fully-qualified engineers certified for safety.’

Andrew Mill, Narec’s chief executive, said the partnership was an important step towards setting up a sustainable renewables economy in the region. ‘For the wind industry to grow, especially offshore, these kinds of training programme are essential,’ he said.

‘We must ensure that not only can we develop and establish innovative new energy technologies, but have the qualified supply chain in place to maintain and operate them safely in the future.’