Government’s 10-point energy plan must have the supply chain at its heart

By Neil Gordon, chief executive, Subsea UK

Subsea UK chief executive Neil Gordon
Subsea UK chief executive Neil Gordon (photo: Subsea UK)

Its bold, it’s ambitious and it’s also been warmly received by most stakeholders including industry and even environmental groups. The UK Government’s 10-point plan covers clean energy, transport, nature and innovative technologies in its quest to create jobs and achieve net-zero by 2050.

The GBP 4 billion investment plan, announced recently, aims to leverage three times as much private sector investment over the next 10 years. But the key to unlocking that investment to create the GVA and jobs is through genuine engagement with the supply chain.

The supply chain needs to fully understand what the opportunities are, so they know what to invest in to be well-positioned to capitalise on them.

If the aim is to develop UK capability and an environment in which overseas energy companies want to invest, then we need a clear supply chain strategy.

And that strategy, with the supply chain shaping it, must provide a clear plan for how we will develop a specialist engineering, manufacturing, services and technology sector that can support the ten-point plan. Only then can we achieve the energy transition and cement the UK as a global exporter of expertise in net zero activities. Only then will we treble the public sector investment, create and safe-guard jobs and generate additional GVA.

There needs to be a tripartite approach: government not only working with industrial corporate investment but also engaging and defining supply chain strategies at the earliest opportunity. Leaving it too late could be disastrous and lead to lost opportunities in the development of competitive UK content which could see us lose out to overseas capability. Lessons must be learnt from the missed opportunities in offshore wind.

In the early days of North Sea oil and gas, the UK set about building and promoting capability through a clear strategy. It wasn’t perfect but there was a focal point for the fledgling supply chain to morph into UK capability that has enabled the recovery of hydrocarbon reserves for several decades with a supply chain that is globally sought-after.

The UK supply chain needs a platform within Government to ensure strategies are in place to create the technologies, skills and opportunities for exporting across the world. This means we have a genuine focus on sovereign capability, that is developed and retained in the UK. It must be prioritised for energy transition projects so that it can build the content and capability required to deliver these.

There are three points in the plan which are of major interest to the underwater engineering industry and its supply chain. These are offshore wind, hydrogen and carbon capture (CCUS) – all of which will, in some form or other, rely on the subsea expertise which has been honed in the North Sea oil and gas sector and now leads the way around the world.

When these pilot projects start emerging, it’s crucial that the subsea supply chain is involved from the outset in order for it to develop the disruptive technology, innovation and skills that will be needed to make these pilots successful and, once proven, can then be exported around the world.