How the East of England is building an offshore wind empire

PUBLISHED: 15:30 02 October 2019 | UPDATED: 15:30 02 October 2019

Vattenfall's offshore Norfolk Vanguard project promises to be one of the largest in the world. Picture: Vattenfall

Vattenfall's offshore Norfolk Vanguard project promises to be one of the largest in the world. Picture: Vattenfall

© Ben Barden Photography Ltd.

The East of England is set to succeed thanks to its offshore wind capacity. But how can we make sure its rise is sustained?

Simon Gray of EEEGR. Picture: Keith WhitmoreSimon Gray of EEEGR. Picture: Keith Whitmore

The East of England is set to become the powerhouse of Britain - in a literal sense.

This region is already home to around 1,000 wind turbines, meaning it has more installed offshore wind capacity than any other part of the UK.

This is set to increase if Vattenfall's Vanguard and Boreas projects are approved next year.

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Chris Starkie. Picture: Angela SharpeChris Starkie. Picture: Angela Sharpe

And businesses already operating in the industry are set for another boost after being invited to Europe's largest offshore industry event in October.

Local firms will join the East of England Energy Zone (a partnership made up of the East of England Energy Group, Norfolk and Suffolk County Councils, a number of district councils, and the New Anglia LEP) at the Offshore Energy event in Amsterdam on October 8 and 9.

Chris Starkie, chief executive of New Anglia LEP, said: "Our region has a distinctive and compelling all-energy offer and that's what makes us so well-placed to be the UK's clean growth region - gas is a transition energy, while nuclear and offshore wind are critical to future low carbon and clean energy generation.

"We are currently in a period of energy transition from fossil fuels to clean energy and at the same time there is an increasing demand for energy. The market for reliable, clean energy and the skilled workers which the sector needs is going to increase."

Rob Lilly, supply chain manager for Vattenfall. Picture: VattenfallRob Lilly, supply chain manager for Vattenfall. Picture: Vattenfall

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Mr Starkie added that businesses needed to make the most of opportunities to skill-up their staff, he said: "The LEP has made significant investment in ensuring the availability of a local workforce. We have invested £10m into the energy skills centre at East Coast College to make sure we're training the next generation of staff."

The East of England Energy Group (EEEGR) will also be travelling to Amsterdam for the exhibition.

Simon Gray, chief executive of EEEGR, agreed that companies needed to be up-skilling their staff already: "Companies will need to develop employees and invest in training. For those already in the sector they will constantly need to re-examine their business plans to ensure they are robust and fit for purpose.

Ian Scott, co-owner of the Prom Hotel on Marine Parade. Picture: TMS MediaIan Scott, co-owner of the Prom Hotel on Marine Parade. Picture: TMS Media

"We cannot rest on our laurels in this sector as technology is progressing so quickly."

Rob Lilly, procurement and supply chain manager at Vattenfall, confirmed there is currently a skills gap, but that "progress is being made". 
He said: "What you notice when looking at the offshore wind workforce is a breadth of backgrounds and career paths into the industry. In our own workforce our pool of talent comes from oil and gas, the military, as well as engineering and environmental science backgrounds.

"It's an opportunity for young people, but also those seeking a new direction. This diversity of backgrounds we think is one of the sector's strengths and a factor in the rapid innovation that's been seen."

Mr Gray added that this workforce, if developed enough, could sustain the industry in the long term: "The desired outcome is lots of highly-skilled, well-paid jobs for an indigenous workforce.

"The investments in offshore wind and nuclear are for a couple of generations so I think we will be seeing this for the next 25 to 30 years however who knows what new technologies will emerge."

However it's not just businesses already in the industry which have an opportunity, as the entire supply chain is will be presented with new contracts.

"Companies working on offshore wind farms are bringing important all-year-round, long-term business to hotels in Great Yarmouth," said Ian Scott, co-owner of the Prom Hotel in Marine Parade.

"Up to 20% of our rooms are occupied by engineers and technicians at any one time. They're also eating in the bar and restaurant and spending money with other local businesses. Wind farm developers and companies in the supply chain are looking for good quality facilities and value for money, something Great Yarmouth excels in."

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