SINCE the launch of the Great North Revolution campaign in 2009 the UK economy has been, at best, flat.
Some sectors have performed better than others, though. Now seems an appropriate time to look at how some of the sectors on which the Great North Revolution was founded, have performed.
When it comes to new energy, wind power remains at the forefront of the region’s push into this area. Existing expertise in offshore and sub-sea engineering continues to be developed into successful businesses serving the offshore wind sector. Companies like sub-sea cable delivery firm, Tekmar, continue to blaze a trail in developing market leading technology in the region. This sort of activity by the private sector is supported and underpinned by organisations such as Narec and NOF Energy, which help to accelerate the development of renewable energy and low carbon generation.
However, it would be short sighted to rely entirely on offshore wind as a source of sustainable industry here. The technology continues to have its critics and there are competitive alternatives in the marketplace, some producing ‘cheaper’ electricity. Besides wind power there are excellent examples within the region of technologies being harnessed to provide sustainable energy projects. These include the MGT biomass power station on Teesside, through to the Science Central Geothermal Borehole Project at Newcastle University.
There are many good reasons to feel positive about the region’s position in the new energy sector, but it is important that businesses and the service sector supporting them continue to remain focussed on helping to attract inward investment. This will allow the North East to develop skills, such as through the recently opened Newcastle College Energy Academy, to ensure that the region can continue to capitalise on its geographic competitive advantage.
Turning to low carbon vehicles, this is another growth market in the North East. Nissan’s Sunderland plant has had spectacular success over recent years, including the plant’s commitment to electric vehicles (EVs). Nissan’s first EV, the Leaf, will be built in Sunderland from 2013 and the development of the associated EV battery plant continues.
Besides Nissan, small organisations remain committed to realising the ambition of EVs becoming commonplace in the future. Whilst EVs still have their critics, the region is well placed to capitalise on this technology. Within Gateshead College, the Plugged In Places project has continued to develop the EV infrastructure around the region. Plugged in Places has clear ambitions to move from being a government funded project to a self sustaining commercial enterprise.
Challenges do remain. There is much still to be done at local and national level to give the region its best chance of developing the low carbon vehicle and renewable energy sectors, but the North East certainly has not given up on its ambition to become the country’s leading renewable energy hub.
Ben Butler, corporate partner in the Energy & Renewables Group at the region’s leading law firm, Dickinson Dees
There is much still to be done at local and national level to give the region its best chance