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Committed to the Humber region: a £2m offshore wind centre of excellence

Oh, to be Emma Pinchbeck. There are few people as chuffed to bits on a daily basis as this woman, who heads up RenewableUK.

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Pinchbeck’s exuberance and passion for inciting change in the green direction is delightful to read on Twitter, as she skips to a Carbon Brief pub quiz, saying she’s looking forward to the ‘climate bants’ and acerbically reveals that she has ‘upgraded my asthma to proper pneumonia last unrelated news I also moved to London in 2016.” (Honestly, she’s well worth a follow if you’re not already: @ELPinchbeck.)

Over recent months, she has found herself in a position to make joyful proclamations like “It’s as if we were the Saudi Arabia of wind” and this fave: “Offshore wind just delivered the closest thing to an energy sector mic drop: offshore, onshore wind and solar are cheaper than gas and nukes.” (Pretty sure Obama applauded that.)

And she has good reason. According to one of the trade body’s recent reports, offshore wind power could be generating enough electricity to keep the lights on in three-quarters of homes by the end of the next decade. The wind farms being developed in the North Sea are expected to power more than 6 million homes. Already this year a new record was set when renewable sources provided almost one-third of all UK electricity in Q2.

Earlier in the summer at the Offshore Wind Energy Conference, Pinchbeck explained why the future was so bright for the UK. “Yorkshire and the east coast is where we are going to see most of the development. The North Sea is where the win is better and the shallowness of the sea bed means operators can plant turbines at the least cost possible. Hull and Grimsby have seen huge investment in jobs and skills. This is the next industrial revolution, and it’s not just about green technology: it’s about better technology. A lot of the skills and resources that powered the industrial revolution of the past are still in place. This is the next cycle.”

So it was unsurprising to learn this week that Humber is to host a £2m offshore wind Centre of Excellence. The University of Hull is collaborating with Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult in a five-year partnership that will accelerate the develop of R&D projects to improve how offshore wind farms are operated and maintained.

It’s in good company, after all not only is it where Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy has a base for some of its offshore wind operations but DONG Energy (Ørsted Energy, once change of name is approved) is working on Hornsea Project I and II just off the coast. Its UK MD Matthew Wright said: “This Centre of Excellence is another example of collaborative working to further lower the cost of offshore wind and we are looking forward to seeing the innovations that will come as a result.”

Chris Hill, ORE Catapult’s operational performance director, said: “Operations and maintenance activities make up almost a quarter of the lifetime costs of an offshore wind farm, and provide a huge opportunity for UK companies to supply their products and services.”

University of Hull pro vice chancellor Dr David Richards said: “The recent dramatic drop in the price of electricity generation from offshore wind, which has halved in two years, has demonstrated that the industry is a core part of the country’s energy mix. Research and innovation in operations and maintenance is essential to maintaining the UK’s position as a global leader in offshore wind and this new centre of excellence will be key to establishing an anchor for the industry as a whole.”

Combine this development with the recent finding that in the UK, industry is shopping locally with 48% of the spend for planning, building and running these projects going directly to UK companies. And for once it looks as though a target will be not only reached but reached ahead of time – by 2020 the industry had hoped to be sourcing 50% of work in Britain. “As well as producing renewable energy at scale, offshore wind is also delivering significant benefits to the UK economy and this report underlines that British companies are an essential part of building and operating these major infrastructure projects,” said Benj Sykes, from the Offshore Wind Industry Council. “We’re seeing the supply chain for offshore wind grow from strength to strength, delivering innovative new solutions to help reduce costs and making a positive impact on communities right across the country.

Yorkshire – in particular Hull – is now arguably a global powerhouse for the offshore industry. The success here is a key reason why this sector is ranked as one of the UK’s largest infrastructure investment pipelines by value – beating the mobile, broadband and aviation sectors. The confidence here has delivered huge investments from the likes of DONG, Siemens and Associated British Ports.

With Westermost Rough and Humber Gateway adding to the mix of innovative farms that will provide cheaper, greener energy to the UK,  “delivering price reductions you associate with TVs and consumer electronics, not multi-billion pound infrastructure” and as more and more British homes and businesses benefit – and with them, their staff, their families, the towns and cities they live in – the more the likes of Pinchbeck will cheer. And good for them.