Northern powerhouse can lead nation’s energy agenda

The North has the opportunity to lead the nation’s energy agenda and ensure the “lights stay on”, according to leading energy experts at the UK Northern Powerhouse International Conference and Exhibition.

The panel, which included representatives from Drax Power, The Energy Innovation Centre, British Gas, Cuadrilla, Iona Capital, Cumbria LEP and Northern Gas Networks, said the North contains the geographic assets and infrastructure to heat and power the nation’s next generation.

According to George Beveridge, Chair of Cumbria LEP, the North of England is already leading the way on renewables with nearly half of all renewable power generated in the region. As well as offering extensive scope to scale up off-shore wind and tidal schemes and being home to extensive nuclear capability and biomass energy generation.

Innovative energy solutions being trialled in the North of England already include an extensive system of salt caverns which could be used for energy storage and the substantial Shale Gas opportunity which could be exploited through fracking.

“With these capabilities across the North there is no good reason why the Northern energy sector shouldn’t be a key place to build an industrial strategy,” said Mr Beveridge.

Energy innovation remains a major issue and piloting new schemes is vital to keeping the systems balanced and consumer costs down. “The cost of maintaining the energy system is going up and the cost of balancing the system is going up, and this will inevitably feed through to consumer’s bills unless answers are reached,” said Andy Koss, CEO of Drax Power.

One of the energy schemes currently being trialled in the North is Northern Gas’s HS1 Leeds proposal, which plans to convert significant parts of the UK gas grid to be 100% hydrogen. The scheme is being supported by all of the gas networks in the UK and is currently being trialled in Leeds before planning to extend to other parts of the country.

Dan Sadler, Special Adviser at Northern Gas Networks, said that converting the UK gas grid to hydrogen will be a major step towards meeting the UK’s carbon reduction targets. “The technology of today made it possible to undertake this conversion. We need to provide some more compelling evidence around elements listed in our report, which is publicly available, but if we can unlock the prize of hydrogen in the gas networks we can make a big dint in the climate change act.”

The audience also heard from Denise Massey, Managing Director of The Energy Innovation Centre about the importance of integration and collaboration across the energy industry. She said: “It is only collaboration between the different sectors making up the energy industry – renewables, oil, gas, nuclear etc. – which will allow us to meet the challenges. Yet at the moment there seems to be little appetite for actually taking action on developing this collaborative approach nationally.

“This is where the Northern Powerhouse could come in. We’ve got an incredible asset base in terms of energy – nuclear, gas, electricity, renewables, offshore – and a comprehensive network of SMEs primed for innovation. It’s all right here in the region. We could provide a framework for how the different strands of the sector could work together and provide part of the blue print which could, over time, be rolled out nationally.”

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