Seizing the marine renewables opportunity

The news that Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, has called a summit meeting in Aberdeen on December 17 to examine how to secure “the biggest economic opportunity in a generation”, is timely and welcome.

Last week I attended an IoD lunch addressed by Steve Remp, Chairman of SeaEnergy plc.

Offshore turbines

He explained that he had been brought up in an oil industry family in the USA and, after moving to Aberdeen, in the 1970s he established Ramco Energy. But Steve is clearly one to look forward to new opportunities.

Last year, the board of Ramco agreed the change of name and focus to SeaEnergy. It is evident that Steve Remp, like so many others, believes the potential for offshore renewable energy is huge.

This concurs with the study published at All Energy ’10 in Aberdeen. At that time we heard that marine renewables could provide seven times Scotland’s power needs and, as a result, we could be exporting the energy equivalent of a billion barrels of oil per year.

His vision is that, with a need for around 9,000 turbines and an investment of £120 billion, this is an opportunity for the whole of Scotland. Steve Remp can see the opportunity to re-open oil platform construction yards to fabricate the ‘jackets’ for these turbines.

What is also clear to him is that – while the fabrication and construction can be spread throughout the country – Aberdeen is the logical ‘headquarters’ for this new industry. It is where established expertise in offshore energy projects is already concentrated.

As with oil, the spin off around the country could be enormous. Although offshore oil and gas is centred on Aberdeen, it supports an estimated 400,000 jobs around the UK – 40% of them in Scotland.

But, Steve’s big worry is that Aberdeen and Scotland is not moving fast enough. “Are we complacent?,” he asked. Perhaps we are too focussed on oil, but that would be a very short-sighted view. Clearly he is frustrated as he sees other countries, notably in Asia, recognising the enormous opportunities.

There may be (as Aberdeen oil executives say) ‘a job for our grandchildren’ working in the oil and gas industry locally, but the industry is shrinking as production inevitably declines.

In offshore renewables we have a remarkable opportunity for offshore renewables to slide in, almost seamlessly, to provide a new offshore energy industry for Europe’s Offshore Energy capital. If we fail to grasp that opportunity, this generation will have failed where the oil pioneers of the 1970s and 80s succeeded.

Hopefully, the summit on December 17 will spur our governments, planners, financiers and industrialists into action.

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