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Comment - Joining up renewables stakeholders for UK innovation

Offshore energy is just one area where a new approach to innovation will help the UK realise its full potential, says Andrew Jamieson.

The UK has a tremendous opportunity to lead the world in developing offshore renewable energy.

We have the potential to create an industry that will not only generate tens of thousands of jobs in engineering, manufacturing, installation, maintenance and operational services, but also contribute billions of pounds to the UK economy in taxes and exports, possibly of the electricity itself, but particularly of the technologies and engineering know-how that go with it.

We are a wind-battered island, so clearly offshore renewable energy is one of the key tools for the UK to meet its carbon reduction target. But renewable energy is still relatively new, with challenges around costs, and that applies particularly to offshore. The government is clear: today's cost of offshore power needs to be reduced substantially, by 30-40 per cent by 2020 in the case of offshore wind.

Solving this is achievable by allowing innovation to thrive, focusing on common standards, scale on manufacturing and delivery. We need a joined-up approach in the industry, with the supply chain, developers, financiers and politicians working closely to identify where costs can be reduced.

That's where the Technology Strategy Board's Catapult programme comes in. I head up the Glasgow-based Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, one of seven technology and innovation centres that will transform the UK's innovation capability and represents over £1bn of private and public sector investment over the next few years.

The ORE Catapult will help the UK seize the opportunity to lead the world in the development of offshore wind, wave and tidal technology. In the process we will generate substantial economic growth, jobs and exports, and help the country increase low- carbon, affordable generation.

We have some early projects in development or underway, focusing on areas such as offshore cables, performance and reliability, and standardisation.

Standardisation is a key objective for ORE Catapult, and so I'm pleased to have been invited recently to join the IET's Standards Committee, which is committed to fostering best practice in emerging and established technology fields.

Other industries successfully use standards as they mature, to drive progress and open the supply chain to new entrants. Standards can play a vital role in fuelling innovation, promoting competition, lowering technology costs and accelerating growth, particularly when they are the result of an industry-led, consensus-based open and transparent process, and voluntarily adopted.

The ORE Catapult is a critical element of a shared vision in which government, industry and the supply chain all have vital roles. There is a need to learn commercial lessons from other sectors, such as the offshore oil and gas industries, and deliver consistent, joined-up thinking to provide investor confidence and maximise installed offshore renewable energy capacity.

The Catapult programme comes from the UK government approaching innovation in a way that hasn't been done for many years. It recognises that we have a world-class domestic industrial base, small- and medium-sized businesses and academia. But historically we have not been good at joining up the parts to realise their full potential.

The ORE Catapult works closely with academia and companies, from manufacturers and owners of power plants to small businesses, to de-risk innovation and have it adopted more quickly. We are creating a centre of excellence with deep technological and engineering expertise, and are recruiting over 100 experienced engineers and technologists over the next few years, people with knowledge of what it takes to get a project or a technology to market.

We will not be issuing capital grants, but will provide leadership, access and connectivity, engineering and technical expertise, to assist growth and development.

I'm clear we have a huge role to play in enabling the entire UK offshore renewables sector ' wind, wave and tidal ' to realise its full economic potential.

Andrew Jamieson is CEO of the UK Technology Strategy Board's Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult (https://ore.catapult.org.uk/)

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