Will Gardiner

Putting the North at the heart of a green industrial revolution

Putting the North at the heart of a green industrial revolution
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Northern England was at the heart of the industrial revolution 250 years ago that transformed business, economics and society and helped Britain lead the world in engineering technology and expertise.

And now the North can again be at the forefront – this time of a green industrial revolution that will protect and create jobs, helping to restore communities and level-up the country, while advancing UK global leadership in vital new technologies that will be needed around the world to combat the climate crisis.

The boost to the economy from developing new green energy technologies in industrial heartlands in the Yorkshire and Humber region would be huge – and we can do it quickly.

Technologies such as negative emissions, carbon capture and hydrogen are ready to go. Deploying them now could create tens of thousands of jobs as early as 2024, delivering a real shot in the arm to communities struggling as a result of the Covid crisis.

The positive impacts of these new green energy schemes aren’t limited to the Humber. This could kickstart a whole new industry in the UK, showing the world what can be achieved for communities, the environment and the economy when governments and businesses work together.

Economists at the University of Oxford and the government’s own climate advisers see green technology as the key to our future economic success, delivering the best value for money in our response to Covid-19.

And Britain is well placed to lead the world in green technologies.

In the course of a decade the UK’s offshore wind sector has grown tenfold and we now lead the world in offshore wind capacity. The shift to renewable energy has been one of the greatest manufacturing and investment success stories of 21st century Britain, creating hundreds of thousands of high-quality jobs and trillions in economic value.

But there is more to be done. We need further cutting-edge green energy technologies, such as carbon capture, negative emissions and hydrogen, to decarbonise industries in the Humber region – the UK’s most carbon intensive industrial cluster. Deploying them is a major opportunity to boost skills and jobs as well as reduce UK emissions so we can meet our climate targets.

Scaling up the negative emissions technology we are pioneering at Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire – bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) – would support almost 17,000 jobs at the peak in 2028, according to new analysis from Vivid Economics in a report commissioned by Drax.

With the right policies, BECCS at Drax could be operational within this decade, underpinning the UK’s first zero carbon industrial cluster in the Humber. Deploying hydrogen technologies to decarbonise industry alongside BECCS at Drax could create and support as many as 49,000 jobs in the Humber region at its peak in 2027, the Vivid analysis shows.

The newly created roles would include more than 25,000 high-quality jobs in construction - such as welders, pipe fitters, machine installers and technicians – and a further 24,000 supported across the supply chain and wider economy in 2027. In addition, there would be 3,300 longer-term operational and maintenance roles created.

This is in addition to the 55,000 existing jobs in the Humber which could be safeguarded as other industries across the region can to tap into the same CO2 transportation and storage infrastructure, enabling further decarbonisation.

As the UK’s most carbon-intensive industrial region, the benefits of decarbonising the Humber would have the greatest impact on enabling the country to reach its legally-binding net zero by 2050 target while generating clean growth for the economy. By 2040, a Zero Carbon Humber could capture and store 15 per cent of the UK’s annual emissions.

The positive impacts of these new green energy technologies are not limited to the Humber region. This could kickstart a new industry in the UK, enabling us to show real leadership as holders of the G7 presidency next year and as we prepare for the UN’s next climate conference – COP26 in Glasgow in November.

Longer term, these technologies could deliver more than 205,000 jobs nationally, attracting investment as well as new export opportunities to support a green industrial revolution and demonstrate global climate leadership ahead of COP26.

Drax has already gone through a radical transformation: we moved from being western Europe's largest polluter to its largest decarbonisation project. We have already demonstrated that large-scale transformation is possible. But we want to go further and deliver negative emissions to support Britain’s net zero target.

Time is of the essence. With the investment and policy frameworks needed to get our negative emissions technology – BECCS – off the ground, we can help to drive a post-Covid green economic recovery in the North and throughout the country.

The Prime Minister’s ten-point plan has fired the starting gun on green economic recovery. Now we need to work together to capture the opportunity that technologies such as BECCS create for our climate and our communities.