One of the key presentations at the virtual SNS2020 event will be from Martin Dronfield, cluster champion for the East of England of Offshore Wind Sector. He’s also a non-executive director of RenewableUK, sits on the board of the East of England Energy Group and is the chairman of the Offshore Wind Special Interest Group for the region. This is on top of his day job – and he’s spent more than 35 years in offshore energy, working in oil and gas around the world and for the past seven years in offshore wind, in the UK, Europe and Taiwan.
“The east of England is an energy powerhouse,” Mr Dronfield says. “It’s the only region in the UK with all forms of energy production.” As well as the region’s offshore wind capacity, the Southern North Sea is still the UK’s gas capital. There are significant solar and bio energy projects, the development of Sizewell C puts East Anglia at the forefront of new nuclear energy and many believe the region will become a hub for green hydrogen.
More than 800 business in the East of England and just short of 12,000 people are already employed or working in off-shore energy – and that’s only set to grow. By 2040 a further £60 billion will be spent in energy projects off the coast of the East of England. “That provides serious economic opportunities for businesses in the region – not only for suppliers that are traditionally involved in offshore energy and its ports, but also for hotels, taxis and restaurants.... indeed a huge raft of local infrastructure will be positively affected by this,” says Mr Dronfield.
By 2025, operations and maintenance alone will be worth something in the region of £1.3 billion in supply chain contracts. “That’s a huge opportunity for local businesses and local people. And O&M isn’t for two or three years – it’s for 25 years or 30 years. In some cases it will be for 40 years,” Mr Dronfield points out.
Much of this growth is likely to come directly from offshore wind. “We’re at the heart of the world’s largest market for offshore wind, which is the UK,” Mr Dronfield explains. “East Anglia is the UK’s single largest region in offshore wind.”
One of the largest offshore wind farms in the world is Scottish Power Renewables’ East Anglia One. This 714 MW facility with 102 turbines went into full production at the end of August and, as a prelude to the company’s East Anglia Hub, is one of three giant future offshore wind projects along the East Anglian coast, along with Vattenfall’s Vanguard and Boreas developments. “These are global-scale projects that will see billions of pounds worth of investment in the next 10 years,” says Mr Dronfield.
The potential for growth in East Anglia is huge. “We’re currently forecasting around 7,000 new jobs in the region – sustainable jobs – by around 2030-32,” explains Mr Dronfield. There has already been huge investment in skills training, including reskilling oil and gas workers and ex-services personnel for offshore wind, as well as initiatives like EEEGR’s energy skills foundation programme and the coastal energy internship.
This skills growth is essential as the Sector Deal with government looks to increase UK business exports fivefold over the next 10 years. That takes exports from the sector up to £2.6 billion. “Companies in the East of England are already leading the way in terms of exporting offshore wind skills and technology around the world,” Mr Dronfield says.
“It’s fair to say,” he adds, “that East Anglian businesses are involved in almost every wind farm project around the world. That includes projects in the United States, in Taiwan, in Japan, in the Baltic Sea and up and down the length of the North Sea around Europe.”
He argues that clean energy is going to be a major contributor to the UK’s and East Anglia’s ambition to move towards net zero - and offshore wind is a fundamental pillar in those efforts. “The energy White Paper that came out earlier in this year actually confirmed an increase in government commitment to offshore wind from 30GW by 2030 to 40GW by 2030,” he explains. “This region will be at the heart of that growth.
“Clean energy in East Anglia is opening a range of new technologies and new markets,” he concludes. “For me the future is bright, it’s exciting – we're seeing clean energy driving a number of opportunities in this region, not least the global opportunity of offshore wind.”
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