Our Region Can Lead The Way Again In The Green Revolution

Nick Tompkins, chief executive, Modus

It has been said before, and doubtless it will be said again: the North of England was at the vanguard of the first Industrial Revolution; delivering the innovation, fuel, materials and products to drive development, economic transformation and, ultimately, setting the course of history.

The world is unrecognisable compared to the 1820s, when George Stephenson was developing his locomotives in County Durham, or the 1870s when Joseph Swann created the first lightbulbs in Gateshead. But the ambition of our region, its people and its entrepreneurs remains the same – technological excellence and economic prosperity.

The unpalatable legacy of that same Industrial Revolution, which set the North on track for economic growth, is of course, the now universally accepted single biggest threat to humanity – climate change. So, it’s a fascinating twist of fate that one of the first applications of Swann’s lightbulbs was at Cragside House, just up the road in Northumberland. Here, William Armstrong pioneered the domestic use of hydraulic power, making it the first house in the world lit with the green energy, as well as deploying it to power an early dishwasher, sawmill, lift and rotisserie. It is not just the ingenuity of Armstrong that must inspire our future endeavours but its practical delivery of renewable innovation.

The North, and specifically the North East, is already answering the clarion call for development of and investment in business and industry, which supports the decarbonisation agenda while simultaneously growing the local economy.

Where the broader decarbonisation strategy sometimes isn’t wholly watertight, is in the processes and applications involved in the development and realisation of these projects. An electric car is still an energy intensive product to produce, made from steel with parts and components sourced from around the globe, even if its emissions, when driven, are zero carbon. Our region is already starting to take up the mantle of decarbonisation.

EDF Renewables UK recently announced plans to develop a substantial green hydrogen project on Teesside, specifically to equip local industry, like steelmaking and port operations, with the tools to reduce their carbon footprints. Tees Green Hydrogen will be a pioneering project, using the green electricity from nearby Teesside Offshore Wind Farm alongside that generated by a new solar farm, to power its hydrogen electrolyser. It will safeguard the future of local industry into the long-term, with an agreement already in place to support British Steel with its net zero ambitions.

Turntide Technologies recently announced £100m investment to acquire UK-based businesses Hyperdrive Innovation Ltd. AVID Technology Ltd. and BorgWarner Gateshead Ltd. The company develops breakthrough technologies that drive down energy consumption and operating costs in buildings, agriculture, and electric transport, creating a path to 100 per cent clean energy and business sustainability.

Britishvolt, of course, will lead the way from its Blyth site, in developing the UK’s first full-scale battery-making Gigafactory to support the current government’s ambition for all cars to be zero emissions-capable by 2035. The £2.6bn development is the largest in the North East since the arrival of Nissan in the 1984.

And earlier this month South Korean firm SeAH launched its £300m development at the Teesworks site near Redcar. It will produce between 100 and 150 monopiles each year for wind farms. The company promises to bring more than 2000 jobs to the area in the process, both in its construction phase and when the site is fully operational.

The region is already front and centre but there is more we can do. In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the minds of the West have accelerated from their focus on renewable energy ahead of the 2050 target, to solving the immediate crisis, which threatens shortages, blackouts and price hikes. Embargoed Russian oil and a commitment to halting dependence on imported gas means the UK is quickly looking to find alternative sources. Nuclear and solar are options, but so too is further offshore development, both in largescale windfarms like that proposed at Dogger Bank, and for continued exploration of North Sea oil and gas reserves. The former is green, the latter is the very cause of the climate crisis – the irony, much of the supply chain remains comparably carbon-heavy.

The installation, commissioning and maintenance of new conventional energy production systems and offshore wind farms currently require similarly carbon-intensive processes, the technology however to decarbonise them is already at hand and ready to deploy, here from the North East.

In June, I was pleased to host a visit from the Secretary of State for International Trade, the Rt Hon Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP, at our offices in Darlington. She came to find out about the work we are doing developing our net-zero, resident, underwater drones for subsea maintenance operations.

The electric, fully autonomous drones are capable of semi-permanent residence and operations on the seabed. Designed for both traditional and renewable projects throughout their life spans, they represent a paradigm shift for the sector. By reducing energy consumption, especially compared with traditional, vessel-based alternatives, they also offer cost savings for the industry.

While it’s currently a small part in the process, Modus is significantly reducing the environmental impact of subsea operations. By targeting a 100 per cent reduction in emissions, increased efficiency, and higher quality, faster data, Modus is reducing the environmental impact of subsea operations and continuing the regions’ heritage of pioneering innovation.

It is not yet clear whether the incoming prime minister and their government will prioritise either ‘levelling-up’ or decarbonisation. So, it may yet fall to businesses and investors in the North East, who are already driving the day, to make good on the current momentum.

The cycle of history put the North East at the centre of the Industrial Revolution, and hundreds of years later it affords the opportunity to lead the green revolution. Our innovation, opportunism and indefatigable entrepreneurial spirit are the traits we must perpetuate to allow us to harness the global agenda to our advantage.

If you would like to find out more please contact MODUS

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