The UK is embarking on a technological revolution that will transform the way that energy is generated, distributed and used. A dramatic shift in the UK’s energy base means big changes for the wider economy, and decisions made now will be critical to the UK’s economic prospects in the years ahead. As an island nation, with a proud maritime heritage, our ports will provide the foundation for this coming change.
Associated British Ports (ABP) is the UK’s leading ports group, with 21 ports around Britain handling around a quarter of the nation’s seaborne trade. Our ports have provided essential infrastructure for Britain since the first Industrial Revolution and form the backbone of some of the country’s largest industrial clusters, in South Wales, the Humber and the Solent. As we embark upon the next industrial revolution, our ports are once again driving change, enabling the decarbonisation of energy generation, industry, transport and logistics.
The development of the offshore wind sector is already a UK success story, and ABP has long been at the forefront of investment and delivery to support this. The offshore wind manufacturing facility at Green Port Hull has created skilled long-term jobs in the region and established a hub for future growth. Across the Humber Estuary in Grimsby, the port has evolved to become the world’s largest base for offshore wind operations and maintenance activity. ABP’s investment to develop the Lowestoft Eastern Energy Facility in East Anglia will create further capacity to accommodate the sector’s continued growth in the Southern North Sea.
Securing a clean, affordable and reliable energy supply for customers will remain a priority for governments in the months and years ahead. Ports are increasingly important locations for onshore wind and solar projects, with 17 of ABP’s 21 ports now hosting onsite renewable energy projects helping to reduce emissions in ports and generate clean energy for port users and the grid.
Accelerating the roll-out of renewables is essential, and low-carbon nuclear power is also playing an important role. Ports will be critical to delivering these projects at pace, providing both essential gateways for trade, and hubs for construction and supply chain support. By facilitating this process, ports are helping to bolster energy security and safeguarding existing jobs in industry and manufacturing.
We are also taking important steps towards establishing the industries of the future. Accelerating the development of the hydrogen economy is vital for achieving net zero. As hubs for transport and logistics, often adjacent to major industries and sources of renewable energy, ports are ideally located to serve as generation, storage and distribution sites for green hydrogen.
Major projects already under way in the Humber ports illustrate the range of potential applications, from energy to transport fuel. The Humber is also among the leading areas in developing carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technology that will be critical for reducing industrial emissions (see Zero Carbon Humber, a consortium of energy and industrial companies and academic institutions seeking to turn the Humber into the UK’s first net zero carbon region by 2040).
The market for floating offshore wind (FLOW) in the Celtic Sea region is still in the early stages of development but represents a huge opportunity for the economy of South Wales and UK plc. Port Talbot is ideally placed to become a world-leading manufacturing and support hub for the sector, delivering transformational change for the regional economy and securing a major new industry for the UK.
Establishing Port Talbot as a hub for the sector promises to create skilled, long-term employment opportunities in a growing industry recognised for above-average levels of productivity. The generation of clean energy will also enable the decarbonisation of major strategic industries in the South Wales cluster, such as steelmaking.
Our ports are rooted in coastal communities, central to the economic and cultural development of many towns and regions. These historic connections are also key to the development prospects of ports, which should have local needs at their core. In delivering these changes, it is essential to take a strategic approach to delivering environmental net gain and securing long-term habitats. Where major changes are envisaged, we will plan for genuine sustainable development, playing an important role in carbon reduction alongside local biodiversity benefits.
Achieving these changes will require new ways of working. It will require genuine partnerships based on delivering shared objectives for the economy, the environment and our communities. To achieve the scale of change that is needed, close collaboration between the public and private sectors is fundamental.
The South Wales FLOW opportunity shows how ports can serve as catalysts for regeneration and how with the right policies and investment, we can grow port-centric manufacturing linked to clean energy provision.
The energy transition provides a generational opportunity to deliver clean and secure energy, while levelling up the economy in the process.