NEWS that the government wants 7,000 wind turbines built around the coast of Britain has energised the renewables industry in Teesside. But there are doubts over whether it can achieve its 25gigawatts goal by 2020.
James Hunt, managing director of Hexham-based green energy consulting company Econnect, which worked on the UK’s largest offshore installation at Hoyle, said the scale of the announcement had taken the industry by surprise.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity, but a number of things need to happen to achieve it,” he said. Not least was that manufacturers must ramp up production of turbines over 2megawats. Only a handful of manufacturers in the UK are currently producing larger turbines and worldwide demand is increasing.
Already, project managers are frustrated by long waits for hardware, and green energy firms are finding it difficult to recruit skilled labour for construction and servicing, said Mr Hunt. But Teesside, with its strong links to the steel and engineering sectors, as well as experience in offshore maintenance of oil and gas rigs, was well placed to take advantage of an offshore green energy bonanza.
“Take anybody in turbine manufacture, Rolls Royce, for instance - I’m sure it’s on their radar. A lot of these companies are keeping their eye on the renewables sector,” said Mr Hunt.
He said the industry was “running to catch up” with demand. “It’s crazy.” But recruitment was a major issue.
Econnect, founded in 1995 with two staff, now employs 100 with offices in Dublin, Melbourne and Wellington, and was constantly on the look out for skilled workers.
“We need the right skills to make it happen - that’s the challenge now.”
The initiative would put the UK back on track to meet its aim of producing 20% of the country’s energy from renewable resources within the next 13 years. But the price may be too high, say some.
EDF Energy recently won planning permission to erect 30 offshore turbines near Redcar, following bitter opposition from local residents. In announcing the government’s plan, business secretary John Hutton, admitted it would forever change the face of Britain’s coastline.