Northern light

21st September 2022


Andrew Clark outlines the work being carried out to identify and boost decarbonisation opportunities in the North East of England

Regions and places will play a critical role in delivering decarbonisation while capturing opportunities to boost the economy and create more and better jobs. Place-based strategies that recognise local strengths, assets and infrastructure will unlock unique contributions towards net zero.

Technology and business model innovations are emerging all the time, and the impact of the transition may be rapid and profound for people and the economy. This means that one size will not fit all areas when it comes to decarbonisation and clean growth. PwC’s recent Accelerating Net Zero Delivery report, for example, found that place-based carbon reduction measures generate better environmental, economic and social outcomes than more agnostic approaches.

In 2019, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) established an Energy for Growth Strategy as part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s local net-zero programme. Through this programme,

NELEP represents the region as part of the North East & Yorkshire Net Zero Hub, which was established in 2019 to provide local capacity, capability and funding to deliver net zero.

The strategy’s vision is for the North East to become the lead UK region in delivering national energy and net-zero policy, while also driving transformational growth. It was developed by NELEP with input from cross-sector regional and national stakeholders, and is underpinned by analysis of regional data and evidence.

Its core aim is to stimulate partnership working to identify, prioritise and support activities, projects and initiatives. Its three workstreams are Regional Energy, Growth Sectors, and Innovation and Demonstration.

Regional Energy

Vision – “Accelerate the pace and scale of large-scale decarbonisation project delivery towards regional and national net zero.”

The North East has around £600m of regional energy projects in the pipeline that are poised to contribute to national energy and net-zero goals. These include district energy and heat networks, decarbonisation of public buildings, renewable energy, mine energy, community energy and domestic retrofit. NELEP is providing project-based support, influence and advocacy, and facilitating the sharing of best practice. Its Energy Accelerator programme, in partnership with the North of Tyne Combined Authority, Durham County Council, South Tyneside Council, Sunderland City Council and Gateshead Council, provides expert staff time and enabling funding for consultancy support, and is actively supporting £150m of projects through business case development. Most of these projects are heat networks, and NELEP is working with government to catalyse UK delivery of district energy schemes and supply chains.

It is also taking a lead on decarbonisation projects by establishing and leading the national Geothermal Energy Taskforce. This is a cross-sector national community of interest that is moving the geothermal energy sector forward, informed by the commissioning of white paper studies on mine and geothermal energy.

“The North East’s mining, engineering and shipbuilding heritage has left a culture closely identified with energy”

Growth Sectors

Vision – “Place the North East at the centre of industrialisation and international growth for key energy and net zero sectors.”

Energy and net-zero supply chain sectors present a transformational opportunity. The North East’s mining, engineering and shipbuilding heritage has left a culture closely identified with energy, as well as a skill and business base in technology and engineering, and several development sites in ideal locations.

The region played a critical role in the Industrial Revolution and is now creating thousands of jobs in clean growth sectors. It is home to an advanced cluster for offshore energy and underwater market sectors, with expertise in robotics and subsea engineering and a wealth of infrastructure. Activity in the offshore wind sector accounts for around £1bn of turnover in the region and could support nearly 9,000 jobs and up to £180m in gross value added by 2025. It is an internationally recognised centre for research and development, including the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult’s facilities in Blyth, and home to the operational base at Port of Tyne for what will be the world’s largest wind farm at Dogger Bank.

The North East has also built an electric vehicle (EV) and battery cluster. It is home to the UK’s first lithium-ion battery plant in Sunderland, a comprehensive electronics, machines and drives supply chain, and nearly £4bn of new investment, including a new Britishvolt gigafactory in Cambois, Northumberland; expansion of battery production capacity at Envision AESC in Sunderland; and battery EV production at Nissan Sunderland. Newcastle University hosts the first regional office of the Faraday Institute, and is leading the government’s network of Driving the Electric Revolution centres.

Another growth sector is low-carbon heat and heat networks. The Department for International Trade has classified the North East and Tees Valley as having a high potential for investment in the heat networks sector, which could create up to 35,000 UK jobs by 2050. The region’s supply chain is well placed to support the sector’s growth, which would benefit from proximity to a project pipeline worth around £500m. The region is also a prime location for heat pump manufacturer investment.

“While place-based strategies have clear value, they must enable joint working at great scales”

NELEP is supporting stakeholders in these sectors through skills development, funding, targeting inward investment, business growth initiatives and business support, innovation initiatives, regional policy, influence and lobbying, and promotion.

Innovation and Demonstration

Vision – “Make the North East the go to place to develop and showcase new energy and net zero solutions that change the world.”

NELEP’s strategy identifies the North East as home to a unique and comprehensive asset base for innovating and demonstrating solutions to energy system challenges. This includes the decarbonisation of heat and power, and maximising lifecycle use of renewables. These assets provide research and a testbed of physical facilities, used by international businesses, SMEs and policymakers.

The North East Energy Catalyst is a partnership that unites the these capabilities. Established and facilitated by NELEP, its partners include a mix of industry, utilities, public sector, universities, institutions and government bodies, collaborating with the shared objectives to: tackle major energy challenges; delivering on national policy; drive economic growth; and accelerate decarbonisation

The Catalyst is working on an ambitious and collaborative pipeline of projects; this has so far included launching SME energy innovation challenges, to provide expertise and funding to regional businesses bringing new energy products or services to market. It has also facilitated funding for new demonstrator facilities such as the Customer Energy Village at the InTEGReL site led by Northern Gas Networks, which will provide domestic test environments for low-carbon products and services.

The Catalyst has also established a wider partner network for the formation of project-based or thematic working groups and consortia with industry. These have led to successful funding bids such as in the Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition, where the Port of Tyne has led a project to develop a real-time digital platform to facilitate port decarbonisation.

Collaboration will be critical on the road to net zero, and while place-based strategies have value, they must enable joint working at great scales on shared challenges and opportunities. Please get in touch at [email protected] if you would like to explore opportunities to work together or hear more about what is happening in the North East.

Andrew Clark, MIEMA CEnv, is energy lead at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

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