The steel industry and the renewable energy industry are natural partners
RenewableUK's Maf Smith explains how the expansion of wind power in Scotland means increasing demand for steel for turbines
Very early one bank holiday Monday, back in 2002, I left my home in Glasgow and drove the three hours to Machrihanish in Campbeltown. I was new into my job running Scottish Renewables, and the purpose of my trip was to be a guest at the opening of the Vestas Celtic wind tower factory.
Opened with much celebration, it was seen as a major achievement and a step change in our ability to increase UK content and economic benefit in onshore wind. In truth I remember the trip most for the six-hour drive home and a 15-mile tail back around Loch Lomond because of a broken traffic light in Dumbarton.
Last week, some 14 years later, I had the privilege to again drive from Glasgow to Campbeltown, an area I have come to know well since 2002, to attend the CS Wind UK inauguration on the same site. And despite those memories back from 2002, this event really did feel like the real deal. And some of my fellow guests had been there in 2002 and were happy to talk about the ups and downs since that time and how important this new beginning was. One person even remembered that long drive back into Glasgow.
Since 2002, the plant has struggled and gone through multiple owners since Vestas pulled out. With lack of follow through investment and periodic downturns in the market we've struggled in the UK to hold onto a quality tower manufacturer.Now though we have CS Wind, the world's largest tower manufacturer investing in this existing plant and making it fit for purpose.
Their ambitious plan will see them invest £27m and increase employment from 150 to 250. They are making improvements to the current onshore tower manufacturer operation and also investing in offshore tower production. Deals with Siemens and Vattenfall, and interest from other developers and manufacturers, will help underpin this significant investment. CS Wind are already accredited to manufacture Siemens towers so there is hope they will be able to kit out a new facility to a high enough standard, and break into this important offshore market.
As an inauguration it was note perfect. Visiting dignitaries? Check. A local school brass band playing the UK and South Korean anthems? Check. Spades and hard hats? Check. All in all the event signalled the importance of this inward investment not just to Scotland and the UK, but most importantly the local community where the factory is the single biggest employer. CS Wind's pride in their company and their choice of Machrihanish was evident with their Group Chairman and CEO both in attendance, alongside the UK's ambassador to the Republic of Korea, and Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse.
What I most enjoyed about my 2016 trip to Campbeltown was the clear sense of local pride in the plant, and the confidence in their future. I talked to staff and managers who could talk positively about how the investment and know how was already making a difference. Inside, the canteen walls were decked with drawings from local schoolchildren of colourful wind turbines. Outside were Siemens towers ready for delivery to the SSE Clyde Wind Farm extension, with more orders for the plant now in place and a future secure.
The investment by CS Wind is a huge shot in the arm for UK renewables, and shows global confidence in the UK. Of course it's great to see that we have investment in offshore tower manufacturing, but we must also work hard to maintain a strong UK onshore market. Congratulations must go not just to CS Wind, but to Scottish and Southern Energy, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and UKTI for all their work supporting the plant and clinching the deal.
At the same time, Liberty House Group announced last month that it is restarting production at two Scottish steel plants to make onshore and offshore wind turbine towers. The company will also open a new British manufacturing centre to supply the UK's leading offshore wind market and in the emerging tidal lagoon power industry.
This recent spate of good news are the first buds in what could become a flowering partnership between wind and steel. We in the renewables industry need our colleagues in heavy industry to be strong and successful, as they are vital suppliers to us and we are their customers. Like them, we are big employers, with more than 100,000 jobs sustained by the renewable energy industry right across Britain. With renewables generating a quarter if the UK's electricity, we are powering heavy industry using secure, home grown sources. We will continue to drive down our own costs because we understand that offering best value for money is a key issue.
The steel industry and the renewable energy industry are natural partners. That's not something you hear very often, but it's true. An average onshore wind turbine uses around 140 tonnes of steel. Many existing wind farms also contain steel sourced within the UK - the Clyde extension supplied out of Machrihanish is just one example.
RenewableUK also estimates that British offshore wind farms being built up to 2020 will need 1.89 million tonnes of steel. This represents a significant opportunity for steelmaking in this country. The renewables industry is keen to work closely with manufacturers to ensure we maximise the amount of locally sourced steel used in clean energy projects. And we have seen some encouraging signs of progress in the past month.