Energy and the Northern Powerhouse

Paul Yates | 29 Nov 2016 | Comments

Energy is the cornerstone of our everyday lives. It keeps our homes heated, ensures the lights come on and powers all the gadgets and appliances we simply couldn’t do without. It powers our public transport, it underpins our businesses and industries, and keeps our towns and cities functioning. It drives our economy and keeps our society functioning.

It generally comes from large generating stations of various types and is delivered to us through the National Grid. But the landscape is changing, devolving, localising, which presents the regions, and the North of England in particular, with a golden opportunity to shape it for the future.

The population and demographic in the North’s towns and cities will continue to evolve, as will the demand for skills and the modes of transport people will use to get to their place of work. Major infrastructure, including inter-city projects such as HS2 and HS3 (linking the cities of the North), new road links and new nuclear power stations, will drive some of this change and the need for people and skills. Ways of working are also changing as more people use technology to enable their daily lives. And mobility will change and become more intelligent within cities. On top of this we have devolution.

With its long history of manufacturing and innovation in industry, the North already has a great foundation from which to build. It has been home to several nuclear power stations for decades, with new facilities in the pipeline, and has seen rapidly–developing, large-scale offshore wind in the North Sea and Irish Sea. Its deep water ports allow the region to service the offshore oil and gas and renewable industries, and are ideally located on the East coast to service future carbon capture and storage. There’s also a potential tidal lagoon off the Cumbrian coast, and the region has the people and skills to build, operate and maintain these facilities.

Through the grid, the power generated in the North can be used anywhere. But how could the North capture the benefits? Perhaps this can come from consideration of energy use and ownership of supply. Local low carbon generation linked to local distribution networks could provide additional resilience, and this will also add economic opportunity in construction and operation. If we align this with the long term change in demand for people and skills, upcoming major infrastructure and changes through technology in how and where we work, it starts to look like we have a strategy for energy that can be lower carbon, can give greater local control and is more shaped to meet future changes in demand, particularly when storage to buffer large scale generation is added to the mix.

Atkins is working with IPPR North and other partners to help develop this strategy for the North. This will inform policy makers on future investment and devolution in energy policy. It will also help to shape policy around the wider infrastructure the North will need in the future. This is a great time for the North to grab this opportunity to shape its own low carbon, resilient energy future.