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Opergy’s Johnathan Reynolds on why it is time for action

In recent weeks, the challenges for all businesses and organisations to understand their role in addressing climate change, develop their own plans towards net zero, and still try to develop new business has become a sharper focus. Johnathan Reynolds, managing director at Opergy, talks about why East Anglia’s clean energy sector could be a part of the solution.
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Existing offshore wind projects off East Anglia supply enough power for around 3.5 million homes. Picture: Shutterstock

It is clear from daily headlines around the world that the climate crisis is becoming even more acute than we realised. 

Following the release of a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that shows we are now expecting to hit a critical threshold of 1.5°C warming within the next 20 years, this puts the world on course to warm by 2.7°C by the end of the century, well above the 1.5°C and 2°C goals of the Paris Agreement in 2015. 

Add to that the continuing efforts to drive economic recovery due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and we have some enormous opportunities for change, but not without their challenges. The biggest of which is time to take action. 

So, who is responsible for driving and delivering such major change? At Opergy, we believe it is our collective responsibility. It cannot be left solely for Government funded bodies or environmental organisations. 

The role of individual businesses, supply chains, and local communities in this fight against climate change is crucial if we are to succeed. The dynamics of business are changing across most industries and sectors. Staff at all levels, customers and consumers, and suppliers are more informed than ever on climate issues, but less on what they can do to make a real difference in their job, their business, or their community. 

This publication is Insight Energy, so we are going to dive into the ‘clean energy’ sector (energy produced from renewable or low carbon sources) in the East a little deeper and share some of Opergy’s perspectives on the opportunities and some examples that might give you some inspiration.

OPERGY Johnathan Reynolds, Managing Director, Opergy (1)

Offshore wind

One of the larger opportunities for growth, with more than £60 billion of forecast investment over the coming decades in projects off the East Anglia coast, and potential to feed our regional supply chain with thousands of highly-skilled jobs. 

Existing offshore wind projects off East Anglia supply enough power for around 3.5 million homes, but there are still some significant barriers to address around transmission infrastructure and connecting to the national grid. 

Nuclear

Existing operations such as Sizewell B provided power to 2.3 million homes last year, with new-build opportunities such as Sizewell C to supply power to 6 million homes. 

More than £20 billion is forecast to be invested in developing Sizewell, which not only gives us a stable baseload capacity but is key to tens of thousands of highly-skilled jobs, both technical and non-technical roles, and a great career opportunity. 

Plans to explore the potential of hydrogen, direct air capture, and desalination technologies powered by nuclear offer some real game-changing concepts to help deliver net zero. 

Onshore renewables

The East of England has one of the largest collections of onshore renewable energy plants, often called ‘decentralised’ production. 

More than 200 wind turbines generating 400MW; 25 bio-energy facilities including straw-burning and anaerobic digestion plants producing 250MW; more than 600MW of battery storage projects either operational or waiting to be built; and a whopping 1.3GW of installed solar capacity across 127 large scale arrays. 

There’s much more being considered or planned, with a forecast investment of over £5 billion from now to 2040. 

Hydrogen

East Anglia has the potential to become amajor hydrogen region, with vast low carbon and renewable power available, and two potential major anchor points: the Bacton Terminal on North Norfolk’s coast currently supplies around 30% of the UK’s natural gas needs, which could be upgraded to receive hydrogen; and the Freeport East proposals at the Port of Felixstowe and Harwich to develop a 1GW scale hydrogen hub, which would deliver 20% of the UK’s 2030 hydrogen target. 

There is also a significant range of smaller hydrogen projects with a range of different technology integration options with solar, wind, landfill sites, and more creating local markets as part of a regional hydrogen network. 

HYDROGEN EAST The Bacton gas terminal on the Norfolk coast. Photographer Mike Page

Transport

How we move people, goods and services around the globe is changing rapidly. 

Moving away from petrol and diesel towards electrification and hydrogen gives us a major opportunity but arguably one of the biggest challenges in rethinking transport and power infrastructure;developing new vehicle and engine technologies across heavy-goods vehicles, buses, planes, trains, ships and other marine vessels, and passenger vehicles; and changing behaviours by encouraging more active travel choices. 

Earlier this year, Opergy modelled more than £122 billion of forecast capital investment over the next 20 years in major clean energy and infrastructure across the East and South East regions of the UK. 

So, what’s the problem? These are huge clean energy opportunities which can help deliver the UK’s net zero targets by 2050, if not before. 

If only it were that simple. 

As mentioned, we have some major barriers to address on critical infrastructure. Making sure our electricity grid, gas pipelines, and water networks are fit for purpose to connect new generation and production facilities of all sizes, with a planning and regulatory system that actually supports rather than impedes development and growth. 

But making sure we have the people and skills that will underpin this forecast growth and change in our economy is one of the highest priorities. 

At Opergy, I am particularly proud of the work our team delivers on skills and workforce development, both locally and nationally, across offshore wind, nuclear, hydrogen and the energy transition. 

We try to practice what we preach, and have recently taken on graduate roles, supporting Kickstart placements to enable young people to enter the world of work, and encouraging and supporting former military personnel to enter the energy sector. 

In my view, energy – its generation, production, and its use – is arguably one of the most important sectors in delivering jobs growth and investment, and helping to drive down carbon emissions, providing more clean power and fuel, which will impact on every person, every home, and every business, and it is on us all to take action. 

As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said: “Change is the only constant in life.”