Despite it often being suggested otherwise, it is apparent that we do actually make things, here in the UK. Something that may come as a surprise to many, I realise.
Let’s spell it out.
Over the last three days at the Seawork conference in Southampton, it’s been apparent that in Great Britain there’s a strong nucleus of firms that play a small but significant role in the offshore wind supply chain.
These range from the boat builders and component suppliers all the way through to the firms that own and charter out the vessels that are integral to transporting engineers and equipment to offshore wind projects.
Measuring the contribution of all these firms to the offshore wind business, is however, difficult. And the eventual figure of all UK contributed consultants, engineers, logistics and chartered services may amount to no more than 20%. However, that 20% for projects undertaken by overseas firms is a particularly significant.
And in the UK (and as we’ve argued before) it’s comparable to the automotive industry in many respects. The vast numbers of Jaguars, Land Rovers, Nissans, Hondas and BMW Minis that lined the docks at Southampton ready for export are of course all the products of foreign owned firms. And yet the workforce that makes them is British, and many of the components that supply them are sourced locally in the UK.
And irrespective of a company’s geographic registration, that foreign ownership doesn’t nullify the fact that the UK is now one of the world’s premier automotive exporters.
So what does this mean for wind?
Well, with the proliferation of offshore wind projects overseas, there is every real chance that the niche areas of expertise that the UK has – such as workboat building or operation – can be exported very successfully.
Perhaps the argument for building a successful wind industry more broadly, isn’t necessarily about having a domestic turbine manufacturer at all then.
There will, after all, always be economies that can compete far more effectively in this area. Instead, perhaps it’s more about establishing and sourcing a UK built, registered and crewed vessel, with the expertise to deliver engineers and their equipment to the right place at the right time.
As the market matures, it’s increasingly apparent that there’s far more value locked away within this market than you’d first think.
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