Energy innovation district leads the way

Philip Cox

Cheshire’s emerging Energy Innovation District is a pioneering project looking to cut energy costs to industry and drive growth.

Brainchild of the Cheshire Energy Hub, a sector support organisation funded and strategically driven by industry, the ambitious aim is to deliver a blueprint that can be taken on by other parts of the UK.

If successful the Cheshire project could stimulate more than £7bn of private sector capital investment and create more than 33,000 jobs.

The district centres round Ellesmere Port, Ince and Elton, part of the North West that accounts for five per cent of the nation’s energy use.

It is made up of an existing cluster of energy related industry, including large scale energy assets, energy intensive industries, the associated supply chain and a centre for research and development.

The aim is to develop a network where occupational energy costs would be cut by 20 per cent.

The blueprint has the backing of a range of businesses and organisations, including Peel Environmental, Cheshire and Warrington’s Local Enterprise Partnership and the University of Chester.

The aim is to provide secure, low carbon energy at a lower cost to drive growth, encourage more inward investment and spark innovation. Resilience and security of supply are also important ingredients in the mix.

Protos, a £700m flagship ‘energy destination’ being developed near Ellesmere Port, will play a big part in the vision.

Peel Environmental’s 134-acre project is focused on energy, industry and innovation, with a £100m 21.5MW biomass facility and a 19-turbine wind farm.

Peel Environmental is also investing significantly into further electrical infrastructure in the area.

And it believes developing a carbon-cutting hydrogen economy in the North West could unlock £1.6bn GVA by 2050 and create 2,300 jobs.

Thornton Science Park and its Energy Centre are also playing a role in the district vision. Part of the University of Chester, it is a fast developing centre for R&D in energy technologies.

Its work includes a collaboration research project with infrastructure solutions company Costain on decarbonising gas.

It is considering proposals for a Liverpool to Manchester ‘Hydrogen Cluster’ and the development of carbon capture and storage infrastructure associated with the depleting Hamilton gas field in the Irish Sea.

Gerard Shore, oil and gas sector director for Costain, says: “Our country’s energy systems are transforming, yet it remains vital for them to deliver cost effective, resilient and low carbon supply for heat, transport and power.

We will be working alongside the University to develop the new technologies and people needed, not only to keep pace with the energy transformation, but to lead it.”

Philip Cox, chief executive of Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership, says the innovation district is part of a wider focus on energy in the sub-region which is set to reap dividends for the economy.

He says “We are at the early stages of developing a local industrial strategy where energy is going to pay a key role.

“It’s one of the areas where the North as a whole is world class and Cheshire and Warrington plays big part in that.”

As well as the emerging district project, the area is home to a cluster of nuclear energy excellence.

Cox says: “It is about utilising our R&D capacity and the skills that exist here. It is a really exciting opportunity.”

Peel Environmental managing director Myles Kitcher says the region is at the cutting edge of the new energy drive, with £170m invested in Protos already.

Phase one, with its biomass plant and wind farm, is up and running successfully – and work set to start on its second phase next year. Kitcher reels of a host of cutting-edge research and development work – from ways to inject gas created from biomass into the national grid to the capture and storage of carbon.

The focus is also firmly on hydrogen as a power of the future. The development of decentralised energy, an area attracting overseas investment interest, is also moving forward.

Kitcher says: “The sector is taking off in many ways and directions.”

Making this all work is important, not only for the region. Kitcher points out that with Brexit looming, the ability to offer low cost energy to large-scale manufacturers could be a major factor when it comes to their future investment decisions.




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