The East of England continues to secure UK energy supply, thanks to offshore wind

EEEGR

“Wind energy is a cornerstone of the future of sustainable energy in the East of England, in the UK and across the world. We are lucky to be part of something so special and something that has the opportunity to make a real difference in the fight against climate change.”

These were the words from the East of England Energy Group Executive Chair, Martin Dronfield as he opened the Wind Week 2022 East of England conference in Lowestoft.


Peter Aldous, the Member of Parliament for Waveney, kicked off the conference sessions by setting the political scene, not an easy feat given recent government developments. He brought to the fore government support for the wind industry and the key role it will play in the achieving the nation’s net zero targets.


Peter also gave his thanks to the region’s industry, stating “What we have seen from East Anglia is revolutionary in terms of what can be done to support local businesses and local people.”


The event hosted by Rob Bush the General Manager at EEEGR was held at OrbisEnergy and saw industry come together to hear updates from ScottishPower Renewables, Vattenfall, Equinor, RWE, SSE and Orsted – all of whom have active or future projects in the region set to power millions of homes once operational.


The developers highlighted the project opportunities for the local supply chain, providing updates on major contracts that have been awarded as well as those that are upcoming.


Michael Somerville, Project Controls Manager for East Anglia Hub at ScottishPower Renewables gave an overview of the Hub projects, including the key milestones of East Anglia THREE, which entered onshore construction phase earlier this year. “We have a team of 200-plus people working on East Anglia THREE and have invested £390 million to date towards delivering this important green infrastructure project. We’ll be completing the detailed design next year, the onshore grid connection will be completed and offshore fabrication will commence in 2024, with foundations installed the following year. Turbine installation and commercial operations will then commence in 2026, bringing more clean, green electricity on to the Grid.”


As the industry grows at a pace the region looks to focus on how it promotes its offering, not only to potential employees but also to the supply chain.


As such, this year Wind Week was celebrated by local communities as well as industry, with developers working together to reach out to people through East Wind; the region’s offshore wind cluster. This saw events hosted in partnership with local education and training provider, East Coast College, and turbine supplier, Siemens Gamesa, that gave a taster of industry and a hands-on opportunity to understand the sector, including bringing young children and their parents together on a North Norfolk beach to learn about and build model wind turbines.


The ongoing skills requirement to support such a fast-growing industry was also high on the conference agenda. The Offshore Wind Industry Council’s people and skills report identifies nearly 100,000 jobs will be created in the industry nationally. With the eastern region delivering such a significant portion of the anticipated offshore wind farms, the local focus on skills has inevitably become a headline.


Rachel Bunn from East Coast College and newly elected EEEGR Director, speaking as part of a panel debate, highlighted the need for industry to collaborate to meet the challenges of developing and nurturing future talent to address current and potential skills gaps.


“The industry needs to help education drive the transition piece and aspirational piece. We know where the skills gaps are, so we need to educate people about them. We also need to demonstrate how many opportunities for work experience, internships and apprenticeships we have across all sectors.”


This was a view that panellists from the young people and skills session championed. Led by Esmee Thornton, Deputy Site Manager for EA1 at Siemens Gamesa, the panel talked about the importance of communicating with people at a young age to educate them about the industry, what businesses should be doing to retain the talent they already have as well as tackling huge issues around diversity and how the sector looks to address the equilibrium.


The final session of the day drove home the importance of collaboration and integration, a theme that ran throughout the conference. Hosted by Johnathan Reynolds, Managing Director at clean energy consultancy, Opergy, he called for the region to get behind an East Wind Leasing Round and delegates learned of the challenges for holistic marine developments and the solutions and opportunities for a collaborative Southern North Sea by thinking holistically across all energy sectors.


The panel also gave the audience food for thought with Martin Dronfield making it clear that unless action is taken, capital investment in the Southern North Sea could fall off a cliff after 2030 due to the challenges of the seabed, grid connections and other factors. He stated that the industry needs to work together for the benefit of everyone.


Martin Dronfield closed EEEGR’s latest event, stating: “The resounding message delegates should take away from today is that the key to ensuring continued success and continued development of the East of England’s onshore and offshore wind industry is collaboration, integration and ongoing communication. We have a strong track record to date, so let’s keep that up and ensure the East of England retains its dominance in the UK energy supply”.