IT has been said that the North East gave the world the industrial revolution. Some 150 years later it is home to the companies leading the clean-up.
Green energy firms have flocked to the UK’s industrial heartland and brought with them the potential for thousands of jobs.
From electric car production to wind turbine testing and manufacturing, the North East and its people have been recognised globally as a key player in the quest for renewable energy.
The electric car industry’s UK home will be in Sunderland and the North East economy is already gearing up for the change.
It took the region just 51 weeks to convince Nissan that it had everything in place to secure production of the Leaf electric car.
Led by development agency One North East, the region put its weight behind a bid that saw it go up against Portugal in the hopes of bringing and securing thousands of jobs.
As part of that effort the region launched the Plugged In Places project, which saw a £7.8m network of 1,300 charging points for electric cars planned for across the North East over the next three years.
June 2009 brought the region a step closer to its goal with the decision by Nissan to build a £200m electric battery plant in Sunderland.
By March this year that total investment in the region had risen to £420m as Nissan announced its electric vehicle was coming to the North East.
These great advances received Government recognition in 2009 when ministers declared the North East was the first the region to become a Low Carbon Economic Area.
The move meant extra support from Whitehall for ultra low carbon vehicles and staff training.
That potential workforce was placed at the centre of the renewable energy revolution when ministers revealed an £8m deal to train Britain’s electric car mechanics in Gateshead College.
Students will learn how to fix the cars of tomorrow at the National Training Centre for Sustainable Manufacturing and Innovation.
It came as support poured into the printable electronics industry in Durham, a sector many believe could eventually contribute more to the region’s economy than Nissan itself.
Printable electronics are seen by many in the industry as the biggest milestone since the invention of the microchip and will allow the manufacture of flexible lights, displays and even solar panels on paper-thin plastic sheets.
Last year £12m was handed over to help the industry grow in Sedgefield.
And even more visible than the low carbon cars we will all be driving are the huge offshore turbines set to be built and tested here.
Clipper Windpower is set to build many of the thousands of turbines to be placed in the North Sea, including those destined to be placed 100 miles off the region’s coast in Dogger Bank.
The firm’s factory will be used to develop and build blades for the ‘Britannia Project’, a 10MW offshore wind turbine prototype under development by Clipper.
The prototype is scheduled for deployment in late 2012, and is among the largest wind turbines under development in the wind industry. The blades will be 72 metres long and weigh over 30 tonnes
Those and other blades will be tested in the world’s largest purpose-built facility.
In Blyth Narec, the National Renewable Energy Centre, is creating hundreds of jobs as it builds a testing centre to try out the motors and turbines used in offshore turbines before they are sent out to sea.
The energy group are also set to build a £15m marine testing facility as the region sets its sights on the commercial potential of wave and tidal energy.
Indeed, the next steps in the green energy revolution are already occupying the thoughts of businesses and regeneration chiefs even as they tell global companies about the changes happening now in the North East.
Chris Pywell, head of strategic economic change at development agency One North East, said: “ In industries like electric vehicles and offshore wind, our leading position has already put us on the global map.
“These sectors are set to create thousands of jobs for the North East and have grown because companies like Nissan in Sunderland and Clipper Windpower in Newcastle have spotted major opportunities for their businesses.
“There are similar opportunities for companies involved in biotechnology and the advanced process industries in the Tees Valley, and the Printable Electronics Technology Centre in Sedgefield is going to spark the creation of thousands of new jobs.
“There are obvious wins to be had from the manufacturing of low carbon technologies and for supply-chain companies, particularly in developing infrastructure for industries like electric vehicles, but there are opportunities for the whole region in areas like project management, financial services, legal services and office developments.”
Leading the way in water innovation
NORTHUMBRIAN Water has led the way in showing how businesses can turn themselves green.
As the region seeks to lead the way in renewable energy, the utility firm has shown how firms can change the way they do business and help the environment.
One of those projects is at Bran Sands on the south bank of the Tees estuary. Here Northumbrian Water is pioneering an environmental plant creating green power from human sewage.
The £33m plant, the biggest of its kind in the UK, will annually save Northumbrian Water millions of pounds in electricity costs and significantly cut its carbon dioxide emissions.
There are also plans for a hydroelectric station is to be built at Selset Reservoir, 14km north west of Barnard Castle, after a partnership was signed by Northumbrian Water and RWE npower renewables.
The new facility will generate up to 750 kilowatts of electricity – 4,000 megawatt hours a year – sufficient to meet the average annual needs of about 1,000 households.
Power generated from this will be fed into the national grid.
Bosses say this will add to Northumbrian Water’s hydro power plant at Kielder Water, Northern Europe’s largest manmade reservoir, which is also operated in partnership with RWE npower renewables.
Alistair Baker, communications manager, said: “No other business is more committed to, or investing more on, maintaining and improving the environment of the North East.
“Billions have been spent since the industry was privatised in 1989 and from 2010 to 2015 another £1.2bn will be invested to improve water and waste water services.”