1. Built environment
November 17, 2021updated 03 Aug 2023 3:38pm

Do the answers to the UK’s climate lie in the west?

Now COP26 has finished, we need new solutions to prove that the UK can achieve the government’s goal and reach net zero by 2050. Now, a partnership between South Wales and western England is poised to become a green energy super cluster.

By katherine bennett

Now COP26 has come to a close, it’s time for action rather than words.

In recent years, we’ve all seen evidence of the potential dangers of our warming climate. Over the past few weeks, the world watched as global leaders came together to make commitments to try and turn the tide.

Katherine Bennett, chair of the Western Gateway. (Photo courtesy of Western Gateway)

We know that talking will not be enough and I echo the words of Sir David Attenborough, “the time to act is now”.

As chair of the Western Gateway, the economic partnership that connects communities in England and Wales, I know that our area’s skills, industrial strengths and natural assets will need to form an essential part of the UK’s efforts to achieve net zero and build back after the pandemic.

We can do all this while better connecting communities across the union and levelling up pockets of acute local deprivation.

Our area is already at the forefront of developing many green energy solutions.

Fusion energy has been highlighted by the government as having the potential to be the ultimate clean power solution. Western Gateway is at the front of a bid to bring the UK’s first STEP Fusion prototype plant to the area.

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Not only do we have the expertise based here, but this is also an opportunity to support communities at risk of being left behind within and beyond our boundaries.

Our Severn Edge site in Gloucestershire makes use of a decommissioned plant that pioneered nuclear fission energy and is near to the UK’s National fusion laboratory at Culham, high-temperature technology at Barnwood, plus the enormous active supply chain around the Hinkley C power station.

Not only do we have the expertise based here, but this is also an opportunity to support communities at risk of being left behind within and beyond our boundaries, providing work for the steel industry in South Wales and lithium mines in Cornwall.

Gateway partnerships and projects

Beyond fusion, our partners in Swansea have just announced the groundbreaking Blue Eden project, a business development that will be powered by a newly designed tidal lagoon. The project will create over 2,500 permanent jobs and support a further 16,000 jobs across Wales and the UK, while creating additional jobs during its construction.

We are also home to a Hydrogen corridor, running alongside the M4 from the South Wales Hydrogen Industrial Cluster to the Hydrogen Hub in Swindon. This sits alongside one of the largest global clusters for aerospace and defence engineering, hosting 14 of the 15 largest design and manufacturing firms in the world. These organisations are already looking to collaborate to develop Hydrogen as clean renewable energy to fuel the larger goods vehicles, aircraft and trains of the future.

But this isn’t even starting to scrape the surface of what we’re capable of.

The Western Gateway has been a driver of digital innovation for some time. This strength could help fast forward the digitalisation of the energy sector – which would help us to reduce emissions as we look to trade, manage and consume energy differently.

Our partners have developed proposals for a virtual centre of excellence that would use digital twins and virtual assurance processes to halve the time it takes for hydrogen systems and other next-generation clean energy solutions, such as ultra-large wind turbines, to get to market.

The Severn estuary also lies, literally, at the centre of our partnership and, with the second-largest tidal range in the world, has huge potential as a source of green energy. It could provide 7% of the UK’s total energy needs. Harnessing this clean renewable energy has been talked about for decades but the need to decarbonise our economy, combined with advances in technology, means the time is right to look at this again.

Already Cardiff and the Blue Eden project in Swansea are looking at how tidal lagoons can help support local energy supplies. We want to bring our collective areas together to look at what else we can offer.

All of this is just a glimpse into what we want to achieve.

More work to be done

Despite many advantages and good quality of life, our area still has pockets of inequality with some areas in the highest level of deprivation in the country. This has huge impacts on our communities and means that a man born in South Gloucestershire can expect to live a full five years longer than someone born in Blaenau Gwent.

We believe the Western Gateway is poised to be UK’s first green energy super cluster.  Not only do we have the skills and experience to make this a success, but we also have the ambition to use this as a catalyst for growth. A cluster of new industries would help create essential new opportunities for those at risk of being left behind as we work to create the workforce for the future

I’m looking forward to seeing how we can state our case to the government in the coming months as we look to announce a new programme of work and start to deliver for the UK.

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