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Archive for March, 2015

Renewable Connections in Japan

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

From Calum Davidson, Director of Energy and Low Carbon, HIE

Flying into Tokyo from Europe means that you pass over what seem endless tracks of forest and steppe in Russia and China, and then descend over the Northern islands of Japan. Very mountainous, and where agriculture is possible, every inch seems to be covered with rice paddies, of which Japan is a net exporter. Quite remarkable as only 15% of the country can be farmed. Japan also has an extensive coastline, and as the plane banked to commence its descent into Narida airport, I could see the north east coast line of Fukushima, and in the distance the cranes and domes of the crippled Nuclear reactor.

The Japanese Government’s decision to close down their nuclear programme in the wake of the 2011 earthquake is one of the reasons why a group of us from Scotland are undertaking a marine renewable energy programme of visits to Japan. Wave, tidal and floating wind, all key areas of interest to HIE, and all areas where the Japanese Government, their local authorities and their large multi-nationals are increasingly interested.

So it’s off first thing Monday morning to the British Embassy, just across the moat and ramparts from the Emperors palace, patrolled by middle aged policemen who ride around on rather old fashioned bikes. They are of course the Imperial Guard. Cue the Star Wars theme music.

Floating Offshore Wind

Friday, March 20th, 2015

From Calum Davidson, Director of Energy and Low Carbon, HIE

In 50 years of being Europe’s leading rural development agency, its fitting that HIE has been right at the cutting edge of a wide range of industries, indeed helping create whole new sectors. Back in the 60’s it was HIDB research and investment that created the regions fishing industry, especially in Shetland. In the 70’s it was Tourism, with purpose built hotels in remote island locations, and fish farming, where HIE R&D money and co-investment with some of the UK’s largest conglomerates that led to salmon farming now being such a mainstay of our rural economies. Business outsourcing, telecommuting, digital health, medical science, all areas where HIE has invested in R&D, in infrastructure and in pure old fashioned “vision” well ahead of the commercial curve, and sector where it can take 10-15 years to see real economic return.

But all areas where the H&I now see strong employment, strong business growth and well paid jobs.

I’m writing this blog in-between planes in Heathrow airport, where I flew down from Scotland just as the 2015 solar eclipse was covering the North of the UK. At 33,000 ft the dimming of the sun was quite obvious, and it was weird to see sunset reds and yellows in the middle of the day. Strangely enough the last time I saw a solar eclipse was outside the old HIE offices in the middle of Inverness almost 20 years ago, where we used the old pinhole camera trick to see the occluded sun on a piece of white card. The group I was with included a few colleagues who were talking about renewables, wind farms and wave machines, and the potential they held for the North, if only we could make sure that we could capture the long term knowledge through R&D, and testing, and manufacturing.

Well fast forward to 2015, and we see that 11 years of EMEC in Orkney means that we are now seeing the worlds first tidal stream array being build in Caithness, with huge supply chain wins for the region. Back in 2006 we saw the Beatrice deepwater windfarm demonstrator build out from an almost derelict Nigg. Ten years on we see SSE looking to use the refurbished ports of the Cromarty Firth to construct a huge offshore wind farm east of Wick.

So early investments pay off, whether its in aquaculture or renewable energy, with moving water growing strong fish, and creating electricity.

Yet we always need to looking to the next thing. Off-shore wind will almost certainly be a major part of global renewable energy production by 2050, but it won’t be from fixed towers sitting on the sea bed. The Eastern UK and the North sea countries are pretty unusual in having a flat shallow continental shelf to build windfarms on. Some parts of the world have deep deep water right next to their cities, and are looking to develop wind farms that float on platforms, or buoys that are anchored to the sea bed. Interestingly these look to be a fair bit cheaper as well, as it does away for the need for big expensive steel jackets.

For the Highlands floating wind is an attractive proposition. The seas to the north and west of Sutherland and the Hebrides have great wind resource, deep water and seabed that’s over the horizon and almost out of sight. We also have the Oil and gas experience in building specialist floating structures like spar bouys and tension leg platforms that the wind industry needs.

Ahh – but we also need to invest in R&D, and somewhere to test. Well that’s what our “next big thing” is in HIE. We are proposing a floating offshore wind test centre, in the seas North of Caithness and Sutherland, where companies from around the world can come and install their prototype devices, see how they work and prove their technologies. And some of the folk who are most interested in Scotland for floating wind are big Japanese companies, and that’s why I’m in Heathrow, just about to board a flight to Tokyo, as part of a Scottish Mission to Japan investigating opportunities in Floating Wind.

I’ll keep you posted.

OFFSHORE WIND DENMARK – The Global Business Delegation

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

Denmark is a ‘windy nation’ as it has successfully managed to grab the opportunity and develop the world-leading wind energy supply chain – both in the onshore and offshore sectors.

Audrey and I joined a 4-day business tour around Denmark – visiting some of the key offshore wind supply chain and test facilities, with an opportunity to network with colleagues involved in the industry from all over the world. Major developers, steel fabricators, wind turbine manufacturers, installation and operation and maintenance service providers, cutting edge test facilities for components and full-scale wind turbines and an impressive ports infrastructure – Denmark has it all. The tour offered the delegates a glimpse of what the country has to offer to the global industry across the wide spectrum of products and services for an offshore wind farm. The packed schedule included visits to a substructures fabricator, onshore test centre for full-scale next generation wind turbines, a regional trade body, lighting protection services provider, blade test facility, major turbine pre-assembly yard, turbine installer, offshore cables installer, a test facility for major turbine components, condition monitoring supplier and two major European wind developers. The highlight of the tour was a boat trip to an operational offshore wind farm off Copenhagen coast – DONG Energy’s 40 MW Middelgrunden Offshore Wind Farm.

The tour was a truly eye-opening experience – there seems to be a real feeling of pride, commitment and a joined-up approach in the wind industry in Denmark and this must be one of the reasons for their success. Constant innovation to drive costs down – is another. There is a lot to learn from our Danish counterparts, but as the projects move further offshore, Scotland has a real opportunity to build on our existing strengths and expertise in deep water engineering, and develop strong capability to supply the offshore wind industry in Scotland and globally.

Promoting the role of women in energy

Friday, March 6th, 2015

Although women make up over half of our workforce, they are seriously underrepresented both in the workforce and in senior positions in the energy sector. This is set to change, says Calum Davidson, Director of Energy and Low Carbon at Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

A couple of decades ago if I went to the doctors for whatever ailment, odds on my GP, or my hospital doctor, would be a man. Roll the clock forward to 2015 and the position has changed entirely with my local surgery on the Black Isle being almost exclusively staffed by women. More girls than boys now leave school to study medicine and nobody blinks an eye to meet a female consultant. There has been a paradigm shift in the way the medical profession is perceived as a career open to all, and as a consequence it is increasingly gender neutral.

Unfortunately not all professions are the same, and the energy sector has a long way to go. The numbers are stark – a report produced recently by PwC entitled Igniting Change: building the pipeline of female leaders in energy stated that of the top 100 UK-headquartered energy companies (including oil and gas, power and renewables), 61 percent have no women on their board, and only five percent of executive board seats are held by women.

The report was commissioned by POWERful Women, an organisation established by Baroness Verma and MP Laura Sandys in 2014 to advance the professional growth and leadership development of women across the UK’s energy sectors.

If we measure the report’s findings against the Scottish Government’s target to have 50/50 gender balance on boards by 2020, we can see energy companies have a hill to climb, however they are cautiously optimistic that change is happening.

Earlier this month I attended the Scottish Energy Advisory Board – a bi-annual meeting which brings together ministers, the energy industry and other relevant bodies to discuss the main challenges facing the energy sector in Scotland.

The meeting took place in Aberdeen, and was the first opportunity for Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to co-chair the Board and underscore her own personal commitment to the sector.

In a wide-ranging discussion we covered the work of the Oil and Gas Task Force and security of supply, topics which have been high on the news agenda in recent weeks, and then moved on to this very subject – the balance (or rather the lack of) of women in senior positions in the energy sector.

It did of course produce some wry smiles, as the First Minister looked around the room at a table populated predominantly by middle aged men; but there was no doubting industry’s commitment to address the challenge.

One issue, in my view, is that many teenage girls still do not see the energy sector as a place to build a career. The Scottish Government, with strong support from HIE over the past 15 years, has done tremendous work in increasing the profile of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) – yet still 72 percent of pupils who sit Higher physics are boys, with many of the girls who take the topic using it as a route to medicine and veterinary science, rather than a career in industry. At grass roots, we need to continue promoting positive energy career choices to girls and young women in secondary and tertiary education – and Skills Development Scotland of course has this at the top of their agenda.

There is too, perhaps, the misconception that jobs in energy equate to engineering roles, but of course this is not the case. Any business today relies on multi-disciplinary teams and energy is no different, with companies including financial analysts, computer modellers, environmental scientists and geologist, to name just a few relevant disciplines. Indeed the Energy Team in HIE is staffed with economists, geographers, political scientists, European law specialists, as well as the occasional engineer and business analyst, with woman outnumbering men by two to one.

However HIE’s energy gender balance is unusual, so the question the First Minister posed is what can we, as an industry and a country firmly promoting energy as one of our prime motors of economic growth, do to ensure its leadership and workforce is more representative of the population as a whole?

Angela Constance, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, has said: “You can’t be what you can’t see” – and we need to get more stories out there of women having interesting and successful careers in renewables, oil and gas.  Networking organisations such as WIRES (Women in Renewable Energy in Scotland) already play a vital role in actively promoting positive messages and providing mentors to the new leaders of tomorrow, and this can only be a good thing.

According to Lindsay Leask, vice-chair of WIRES and Senior Policy Manager, Offshore Renewables, at trade body Scottish Renewables, the renewable sector has better gender balance than oil and gas, yet just 26 per cent of Scotland’s renewable energy workforce is female.

“I think we’ve still got a long way to go,” Leask says. “The good news is that the Igniting Change report finds we are looking at an entirely fixable problem.

“It proposes actions for CEOs, HR departments, senior management and women themselves. Targets are one tool, but broader cultural shifts are equally important to achieve these numbers. The research found the most important action a CEO can take is to simply lead by example, create a diverse team and challenge bias,” Leask concludes.

This view certainly matches the opinions the First Minister heard at Scottish Energy Advisory Board.

There was a broad consensus on the need to drive change from the board level down – with affirmative action and personal leadership to the fore. In other words, to “be the change you wish to see..’

This change will need to happen soon if Scotland is the meet it’s 2020 ambitions and I hope that, as we have seen in other competitive fields, such as medicine and, dare I say it, politics, the more women we see at the top, the more it becomes the norm.

As our own First Minister said on appointing her cabinet of five men and five women in November last year: “The cabinet line-up is a clear demonstration that this government will work hard in all areas to promote women, to create gender equality and it sends out a strong message that the business of redressing the gender balance in public life starts right here in government.”

Leadership, as Nicola Sturgeon has shown, comes from the front.