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Supporting innovation as local supply chain offers opportunities for Highlands and Islands business

By Highlands & Islands Enterprise - Energy team

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By Audrey MacIver, director of energy and low carbon, Highlands and Islands Enterprise

An increase in the number of offshore wind farms like Beatrice will offer more opportunities for local businesses to get involved in the supply chain.
An increase in the number of offshore wind farms like Beatrice will offer more opportunities for local businesses to get involved in the supply chain.

This is a very difficult time for virtually all industries, and energy is no exception. The impacts of Covid-19 have been immense and far reaching, and even before the lockdown we saw a dramatic drop in oil and gas prices.

The Scottish and UK governments’ ambitions for net-zero economies will have further significant implications for energy industries.

Support for the sector is essential to achieving both economic recovery in Scotland, and the net-zero ambitions.

These are considerations that have been taken into account in recent major announcements for Scotland’s energy sector; announcements that will have far-reaching benefits for the Highlands and Islands.

Over the next 10 to 15 years, up to 10GW of new projects are set to emerge, following Crown Estate Scotland’s ScotWind offshore wind leasing round.

Water depths across many of the sites are likely to mean that projects will need different technologies such as floating structures.

Skills and expertise honed by the Highlands and Islands business base, through decades of experience in oil and gas, gives supply chain companies a head start in being able to meet these needs.

This means we can expect many large-scale offshore energy opportunities reaching across every part of the Highlands and Islands.

Our role is to work with the supply chain across the north of Scotland and support the development of the DeepWind offshore wind cluster.

Encouragingly, the companies planning to bid into ScotWind are engaging early and in detail.

This engagement is about finding new ways to connect industry, academia and government agencies in preparing to scale up in activity and opportunity offered by the leasing round. It is vital if the industry is to embed 60 per cent UK content into projects in line with the offshore wind sector deal commitments.

Crown Estate Scotland’s supply chain development statements will be a key factor. We expect these to help instil further confidence in supporting the growth of the Highlands and Islands supply chain to meet the demands of the offshore wind industry.

This will create inclusive, sustainable employment opportunities through to the middle of this century and beyond.

From offshore to onshore, we also welcomed SSE Renewables recent positive final investment decision on Viking Wind Farm in Shetland. This will be a £580 million investment, and with 103 turbines and generating 443MW it will become the UK’s largest onshore wind farm in terms of output.

Another major boost is the launch of the £62 million north-east transition fund. This multi-year support package is to help the energy sector’s recovery from the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

It will benefit the wider Scottish energy sector and support inclusive and sustainable economic growth across the country.

The north-east will be able to realise its ambition to become an ‘Energy Transition Innovation Region’ and provide support for the key oil and gas sector. This means progressing some major infrastructure projects such as a Net Zero Solution Centre, a Hydrogen Hub and an Energy Transition Zone.

Our region’s existing infrastructure assets will complement these ambitions very well. Due to the degree of interdependency in the supply chain, many businesses across the Highlands and Islands will benefit from this increased investment in the energy transition.

While we are very much focused on the immediate economic crisis caused by the global pandemic, we are also looking ahead to new opportunities for our region; new opportunities that will, as outlined by the recently published Advisory Group on Economic Recovery report, ensure a transition to a greener, net-zero and wellbeing economy.

The group, led by Benny Higgins, former chief executive of Tesco Bank, highlights the central role of the Highlands and Islands and other rural areas in delivering economic recovery. Recommendations include the prioritisation and delivery of green investments.

These investments in physical infrastructure related to the energy sector, be they grid upgrades, enhanced port and harbour facilities or new manufacturing hubs, will all support the continued rapid growth of the renewable energy sector. This has a pivotal role in achieving net-zero and climate change ambitions, as well as in the green recovery in the shorter term.

Alongside these investments, we must ensure our supply chain is well-supported and our businesses ready to seize the significant opportunities that are undoubtedly coming.

The global pandemic has sadly been devastating for many, both personally and in business, but as we begin to emerge, we can see an increased focus on local supply and delivery.

The re-shoring of activity presents a window for our supply chain to highlight what they do best and to ensure that buying local remains both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.

Innovation in products and processes will be key, as will clever promotion of services, capabilities and experience. We have all been forced to do things differently of late; perhaps some new practices are here to stay – who knows? Whatever the future holds, HIE is here to support sustainable growth across the business base and the energy sector is undeniably an exciting place to be.

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