We live in exciting times for the Humber. Hull 2017 City of Culture showcased some of our best historic and cultural elements, whilst the recent announcement that Rugby World Cup games will be hosted at the KCOM Stadium builds on our region’s strong sporting character. Now we seek to reassert our position as the UK’s Energy Estuary by promoting some of the most cutting-edge clean energy projects to take us forward over the coming decades.
Over the next few weeks we will be finalising our Local Energy Strategy, the document which outlines the direction that our regional energy infrastructure will take from now until around the middle of the century. The energy sector itself is wide, featuring everything from large-scale offshore windfarms and energy from waste schemes, down to localised domestic heating projects and the increased installation of electric vehicle charging points, but all of these aspects need consideration as we seek greater efficiency and reduced emissions.
This plan will form a key part of our Local Industrial Strategy, and build on previous work on offshore wind and industrial decarbonisation.
The Humber is already home to some major energy projects and is a true powerhouse for the UK as a whole – being the hub for the UK’s largest offshore windfarm project as well as two of its four oil refineries, 25% of the nation’s oil refinery and coal imports, and a fifth of its gas demand.
But the region is not without its challenges. Due to the high concentration of energy intensive industries such as chemicals, steel, cement and manufacturing, the Humber ranks among the highest emitters of carbon in the UK. It is a region with both urban centres and very rural communities, making it difficult to find one-size-fits-all solutions.
However, with these challenges come also opportunities. The sheer size of our industrial and commercial sector – accounting for around two thirds of the region’s total energy use – makes us an ideal place to trial projects aimed at reducing energy consumption and emissions with great potential for rapid savings. With such reductions often also come cuts to operating costs for businesses, giving an added incentive and often allowing them to invest and grow further.
The extent, profile and variety of industries within our cluster enables our region to become a key demonstrator or case study for a wider move towards a low carbon economy. The University of Hull, at the cutting edge of this vision, is keen to promote the region as a ‘living lab’, promoting innovation by using real-life environments to test opportunities such as district heat networks that could then be used on a much wider basis to make considerable impact. This week, Grimsby Renewables Partnership has been showcasing our offshore wind assets at their annual conference, an area of the renewables sector that our region becoming increasingly known for our expertise in.
Last month I joined other representatives of the Humber region and the North in giving evidence to the Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Select Committee, which is investigating Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage (CCUS) – a method of capturing harmful carbon emissions before they are released into the atmosphere, and either storing it safely in underground rock formations or using it in other industrial processes such as drinks manufacturing. Our abundance of high emitting industries, combined with our proximity to the geologically perfect-for-storage North Sea bed, makes the Humber an ideal location for trialling large scale CCUS projects which could make a real impact.
Indeed this is something that Drax, based in Selby but inextricably linked to the Humber’s economy, are already investigating via a bioenergy project which could result in net negative emissions. Such projects also open the door to further investigations into increased use of hydrogen for heating and transport, something many local energy providers are keen to explore.
As we develop the next phase of our plans there will be an ongoing focus on encouraging renewable and lower carbon energy, whilst at the same time working with the manufacturing and heavy industry base that the region was built on to support them to reduce their emissions and secure their future sustainability.
This is truly the UK’s Energy Estuary, a region with an exciting low carbon future.