Traveling down to south Wales from the North, past the off-shore windmills, I was reminded of the fact that sadly, Wales has a long and painful history of exploitation of our natural resources, goods, and minerals, leaving behind the scars and little in the way of infrastructure and development from the profits. I was therefore very keen to see what the ‘Future Energy of Wales’ is, and what it can do for us.
Arriving at the impressively huge ICC, it was fantastic to immediately get a sense of the palpable enthusiasm around the future of renewable energy in Wales, and the opportunities that could come along with it.
RenwableUK as a group focus their activities around marine and hydrogen power technology, it was no surprise therefore that the itinerary for the conference concentrated on off-shore wind and hydrogen. What was slightly surprising was the attention given to off-shore wind sector in particular, with most talks aimed at discussing developments in the Celtic Sea, an attendance list jam-packed with off-shore wind representatives, and a complete absence in talks or stalls about wave and tidal power.
I suspect this may have something to do with the recent announcement by the Crown Estate, who have updated developers on the design of the tender process for seabed leasing for floating wind energy in the Celtic Sea. The Celtic Sea programme is intended to provide 4GW of renewable energy capacity by 2035.
The U.K. Government have announced that we need to be generating more than 100 GW offshore to reach net zero by 2050, and proponents of off-shore wind believe the Celtic Sea could accommodate 50 GW.
Being technology agnostic, I am an advocate for any and all developments that will help us reach Net Zero. I thoroughly believe that we need to keep our minds and hearts open to all technologies to support us in this great challenge, as the rhetoric of many speakers across the conference will attest to, we need to explore all options – there is no silver bullet when it comes to fully decarbonising our activities.
But something about the sharp focus of off-shore floating wind felt a little strange. The absence of attendance or attention to the wave and tidal sectors was clear, especially given the magnitude of enormous potential we have for developing these sectors in Wales. This may be innocently explained by the annual ‘Marine Energy Wales’ conference, a fantastic and exciting event, which took place 8 months ago.
Across the two days the talks were engaging, exciting and incredibly insightful. It is clear that the potential opportunities that lay ahead for Wales, are almost matched by enormous challenges that we face in getting the floating off-shore wind turbines consented, built, shipped, connected and powering our island.
It was also exciting to hear the focus on supply chain opportunities that developments could offer Wales, given our existing shallow water ports, extensive heavy industry capacity and skills force. It was also encouraging to hear how The Crown Estate stipulates that any leases granted will need to prove tangible socio-economic impact to the regions of South Wales and South-West of England.
What was a little disappointing was the attention and focus on South West Wales throughout the talks and conference, I believe I only heard ‘North Wales’ or ‘mid-Wales’ mentioned perhaps three times across the entire convention.
Can we truly say that it is in the best interest of Wales and the Welsh people, that The Crown Estate will profit from these leases to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds, with 75% of those profits going to the UK treasury, not the democratically mandated Welsh Government, to benefit Wales as they see fit, with the remaining 25% going directly to the royal family?
How does this benefit Wales, compared to Scotland, who have devolved the Crown Estate to the Scottish parliament? The absence of Welsh Government or Crown Estate stalls, and a fleeting visit from Crown Estate and Welsh Government representatives, spoke volumes.
It was also incredibly exciting hearing the many possibilities Green Hydrogen technology could prosper in Wales and Welsh waters, with a great number of burgeoning developments under way, as well as community energy projects that could empower local people in gaining cheap renewable power from their surrounding area.
The two-day event was brimming with positive enthusiasm, and I left the event, thankful to RenewableUK for organising a fantastic and insightful event that filled me with a great sense of confidence in our ability to meet these great challenges head on. I was also however, leaving with many questions and doubts unanswered, is the rhetoric for real, will Wales truly benefit from these activities, and all of Wales at that? Or will Wales be left high and dry once again, with our resources taken from us, leaving us with the scars?
What is clear, and our belief here at M-SParc, is that Wales could be at the forefront of the next industrial ‘green’ revolution, showcasing how a small country can lead the way in reaching Net Zero and showcasing revolutionary technology in the 21st century.
We must demand, not ask, that the benefits of this revolution truly reach Wales, so that we can all prosper and profit from these developments, and not just be left with the scars.