By Sophie Stainthorpe, Insight Energy
The region’s most prominent energy, marine and environmental science research centres together with regional business, are partnering on a new collaborative bid which will further enhance East Anglia as a clean energy powerhouse for the UK and promote economic and environmental sustainability.
The £29 million bid has passed the first stage of the Strength in Places Fund, a UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) flagship fund designed to invest in innovation-led regional growth, building on established local research strengths and industry collaboration to generate economic impact and high-value jobs.
The programme, ‘Suffolk & Norfolk Research & Innovation on the Sustainable Energy Coast’ or ‘SuNRISE Coast’ for short, is led by the University of East Anglia, working with the UK’s Centre for the Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) headquartered in Lowestoft, and the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult which opened a new regional office at OrbisEnergy in 2019.
These world-leading research organisations will work in partnership with the East of England Energy Group (EEEGR), the regional industry body and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership. If successful, this will be the first major project bringing these three organisations together in collaboration with industry.
The unique characteristics of the Southern North Sea, off the East Anglian coast, create a favourable environment for offshore and coastal energy developments leading to an unparalleled diversity of energy sector companies. As a result, it is an ideal exemplar for the energy transition, with natural gas and offshore wind players already co-operating on shared data observatories, offshore training and logistics, and opportunities for a future that includes hydrogen production at scale; fish nurseries and biodiversity havens; e-lighthouses for navigation of autonomous vessels; pioneering new ‘aqua-tech’ solutions; better co-ordinated management and regulatory frameworks and much more.
In addition, the programme will address important issues of environmental sustainability and diversity and explore new opportunities for improving the health of the Southern North Sea. The five-year SuNRISE Coast programme is designed to address key industry, business and environmental challenges, enabling research and development of novel solutions and generating commercial opportunity to drive clean growth in the region.
UKRI’s feedback on the first stage submission highlighted the region’s diversity in energy generation, with a mixture of offshore wind, gas and nuclear, that could benefit from greater integration and collaboration between research centres and industry.
The UKRI panel recognised the application’s high quality, which was considered “highly innovative”.
Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, said: "We are backing our innovators and with the support they need to turn great ideas into first-class industries, products and technologies. […] the pioneering projects we are funding today will help create jobs and boost skills across the UK as we continue to drive forward our economic recovery."
Prof Fiona Lettice, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research & Innovation at the UEA, said: “Our SuNRISE Coast programme focusses on the Sustainable Energy Coast of Suffolk and Norfolk, a key area for growth and deployment of new low carbon and renewable energy technologies, and the largest provider of the UK’s energy.
We have brought together some of the country’s leading research bodies, combining local research and business strengths to enable the economic and environmentally sustainable development of the Southern North Sea, supporting growth, employment and billions of pounds of new investment.”
David Carlin, Science Director at Cefas, said: “The coast off East Anglia is of national significance, not only for natural gas and renewable energy production, but aquaculture, fishing, marine sciences, and much more.
“Cefas is delighted to be strengthening our existing relationship with UEA and partnering with ORE Catapult, EEEGR, and regional industry partners. Over £20m has been invested in developing our new marine science research campus in Lowestoft, which will act as a key innovation asset working with our research and industry communities.”
Dr Stephen Wyatt, Research & Disruptive Innovation Director at ORE Catapult, said: “ORE Catapult works to bridge the gap between industry and academia, translating applied research to match real industry need. Working with key research and industry bodies in the East Anglia region will enable us to address some of the significant
opportunities and challenges facing the UK’s growing offshore renewable energy industry, to enable us to meet our net-zero targets and kick-start the green economic recovery.
We saw a critical need for ORE Catapult to be on the ground amongst the innovation community in East Anglia and established our presence in 2019, with the support of New Anglia LEP. We recognised the pivotal role that the region continues to play as a leading offshore energy cluster, with innovative companies at its centre, supported by key research and scientific partners, and port infrastructure.”
Simon Gray, Chief Executive of EEEGR, said: “Our members are working across offshore gas, renewables and nuclear, with more than 50 years of expertise in offshore and marine operations.
“The future energy system will require a more integrated and joined approach on the road to net-zero, which will help to maximise the innovation and business opportunities for regional businesses and organisations.”
Chris Starkie, Chief Executive of New Anglia LEP, said: “Innovation and the translation of research in commercial opportunity are key drivers of economic growth and the proposed SuNRISE Coast programme offers a significant opportunity to build on our existing clean energy research and innovation strengths across our Universities, Cefas and ORE Catapult’s new Lowestoft facility.
“Our region is in an excellent position to benefit from investment in, and growing demand for, clean energy and the Norfolk and Suffolk Local Industrial Strategy affirms our commitment to leading the way as the UK’s clean growth region.”
The programme development is being supported by leading clean energy expert, Johnathan Reynolds, Managing Director at Opergy Ltd, who also chairs the Norfolk and Suffolk Innovation Board.
The Secretary of State has granted a three month extension to the Examination.
During the recent development consent order hearings (DCO), the Suffolk Energy Action Solutions group (SEAS) brought to the attention of the inspectors the fact that Scottish Power Renewables (SPR) are using “gagging” clauses in their agreements with landowners involved in the planning process for their offshore wind farms, EA1N and EA2. These clauses offer financial incentives to individuals and groups to withdraw objections and/or desist from objecting to their plans. There can be no justification for making payments or imposing conditions which undermine a statutory planning inquiry conducted in accordance with public law principles.