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Powering the powerhouse

Paul Yates | 22 Feb 2016 | Comments

One critically important, but perhaps under discussed, area of the Northern Powerhouse is energy. In particular, where will it be generated, what technologies will be used now and in the future and how will it be decarbonised? And most importantly, how will it be distributed effectively and efficiently across the Northern Powerhouse.

So, what’s the energy challenge?

News stories about the UK “energy gap” are widespread. According to the government, bill payers are reluctant to subsidise low carbon forms of energy such as onshore wind and biomass, but what are the other options? The coal fleet will close by 2025. Carbon capture and storage has been kicked into the long grass. Nobody wants waste incinerators in their back yard, despite them being a clean, low carbon technology. Very few new gas fired power stations are being built (and they don’t count as low carbon anyway). Taking all these points into consideration you might think we are in serious trouble. Not quite…

In recent years there have been a number of advancements by those working in the energy sector and where plans are being delivered at pace to create an energy hub in West Cumbria, commonly referred to as the “Energy Coast”. The region has ambitious plans to build up to 10GW of new generation capacity, all low carbon, equating to about 10% of the total UK energy demand.

There are already well-developed plans for the Moorside nuclear power station (3.4GW), and a further 600MW nuclear capacity at Sellafield. The area is also ideal for a tidal lagoon, which would generate a further 3.2GW. The offshore wind fields in the Solway Firth can be expanded to deliver a further 1.5GW. All connected to the new high voltage interconnector currently being built by National Grid. We’re also expecting to see further advances in waste to energy and local generation connected to heat networks in the region. These are all incredibly exciting opportunities for building a diverse energy mix in the Northern Powerhouse.

Ultimately, due to uncertain long term policy and strategy from government on energy, local authorities need to take the lead, and we can work in partnership with them, enabling them to deliver localised energy, such as heat distribution networks and micro-grids. This can then engender energy-led infrastructure. The outcome of this would be cities and local communities collaborating across the Northern Powerhouse to create connected, decentralised energy generation networks providing resilient low carbon energy for communities across the region. Combined with large scale generation at Cumbria’s Energy Coast, public services and bill payers will reap the benefits of a resilient and low carbon energy supply for years to come.