Event review: RenewableUK 2011

Posted on 5 Dec 2011 by The Manufacturer

Following RenewableUK 2011, the low carbon energy conference, TM asked one of the exhibitors for an anonymous and impartial review of the event. Here are his impressions of the state of the renewable energy industry in the UK.

Manchester was the 2011 venue for the Renewable UK annual conference and exhibition. In the many speeches and side events it was frequently noted that Manchester was once the heart of the industrial revolution and that the large scale renewables industry could again lead Britain into a manufacturing renaissance. What wasn’t said that this time it is unlikely to be UK-owned.

It felt very little busier than the previous year but business was being done in a much more measured and confident way. The large, round three offshore wind projects are all making serious steps towards implementation and the economic ecosystem of engineering consultants, prime contractors, turbine manufacturers, and specialist service companies is stabilising.

The tone of the exhibition was less about scrambling for a foothold in this ecosystem and more about taking the opportunity to meet with existing consortia partners and potential clients in one convenient location.

The largescale onshore wind projects are moving much more slowly than the industry wants and there is a sad acceptance that politicians are simply not prepared to take leadership positions in order to unblock the many barriers that still exist. The larger utilities are all focussing their balance sheets on the large offshore projects and this is leading to turnover of the smaller onshore wind farms.

Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne opened the second day of the conference and set out the government’s stall in a way that was welcomed by industry. The substantial decrease in the solar FIT, but continuation of the FIT scheme in general was also actually welcomed by attendees. Overall the recent changes are seen as evidence that this government is prepared to overrule vested interests and fix the absurdly inflated subsidy schemes bequeathed by the previous government.

The small and medium wind sectors were well represented but talk here focussed on the recent bankruptcy of the Scottish company Proven and its acquisition by Kingspan, the large Irish building products company. There is progressive consolidation going on in the smallwind sector and once again the pattern is that foreign capital is more prepared to back technology than British investors.

In summary, a lot of serious business was done by a noticeably more mature industry. Quite a lot of this is likely to result in manufacturing in the UK, even if it will not actually be UK-owned.  Looking into 2012 the heavy metal is going to be moved in manufacturing facilities for offshore wind. Medium wind could cause problems within the FIT scheme as, when they get through the planning system, they will be quite large projects. Marine, wave and tidal will need to yield good test results at scale in 2012 in order to get continued investment. British small scale wind will have to work hard not be swamped by the foreigners and UK solar is a lost cause as it is almost all foreign already.

Dr Gordon Edge, RenewableUK’s Head of Policy, gave TM his official line on the event’s achievements and highlights saying, “Our member companies are telling us that the conference was a great success, as it offered unparalleled opportunities for networking and deal-making. We were also delighted that the Secretary of State chose our conference to make a keynote speech, in which he made clear his emphatic support for the renewables sector

Our members’ survey, released at the conference, indicated that 80% of our member companies are planning to take on extra staff in the next 18 months. We’ve outlined many of the benefits that the sector has to offer in two reports entitled The Rebirth of UK Manufacturing, which include case studies to show how this country is consolidating its position at the forefront of the renewable energy sector”.

Post event figures show that RenwableUK achieved a record turnout in 2011 with more than 6,500 visitors.