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Energy Capital has redesign the city of Coventry’s energy infrastructure for a carbon-free future. Image: Si Chun Lam (林詩雋)(Wikimedia).
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Energising the UK’s net-zero future: How the West Midlands is storing opportunities for energy investment

Energy Capital has redesign the city of Coventry’s energy infrastructure for a carbon-free future. Image: Si Chun Lam (林詩雋)(Wikimedia).

Energy storage is a hot topic in the net-zero conversation.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the UK, where the catalytic environmental and economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has seen the Government spark plans for a green industrial revolution.

In the West Midlands, championing climate conscious technologies is top of the agenda. Our region is on a mission to be zero-carbon by 2041, and the pinnacle example of a clean economy in practice.

But there are a number of challenges to overcome if we are to achieve this aim, particularly when it comes to greener power.

Our region is globally-renowned for its clusters of traditional industries – such as manufacturing, materials, and automotive production – that rely on energy intensive processes. As pressure on the energy grid mounts, industrial users find their energy costs rising rapidly; meanwhile the security of energy supply is faltering.

Local renewable energy provision will be an important factor in reducing the carbon emissions of industry, but this on its own will not be enough. To combat the inherent unpredictability of wind and solar generation, as well as fluctuations in the cost of energy from the grid during the day, smarter industrial energy management will be required. This positions the West Midlands as a unique location to unleash the innovative and economic potential of energy storage in the UK.

Steering the future

Insights from consultancy Gemserv highlighted consumer will as the greatest enabler of energy storage adoption in the UK, through emerging technologies like heat pumps and electric vehicles (EVs) – a critical market where the West Midlands is immediately steering the green investment agenda.

Home to a third of the UK’s car production, the region’s mature automotive ecosystem of big-name brands, including Jaguar Land Rover, Lotus Cars and the London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC), is accelerating the EV revolution at pace. They are backed by an advanced landscape for battery research and development, which includes the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC) – the UK’s only facility for investigating large-scale battery production.

Building on these capabilities, plans are in motion to establish the UK’s first Gigafactory in the West Midlands to elevate the automotive industry’s electric dreams. Pending submission and approval, this facility will cement the significance of the energy storage market in maintaining the global competitiveness of UK industries.

The decarbonisation makeover

Away from mobility, there is a clear role for energy storage to transform traditional industries.

The West Midlands is famed for its heritage as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, acclaimed for its pioneering role in world-changing inventions, like the world’s first practical bicycle and steam engine. This legacy remains resolute today as the UK’s most active advanced engineering and manufacturing cluster, with 14% of the country’s entire industry workforce supported in the region.

These strengths require smart thinking to enable efficient decarbonisation and balance the local constraints of power supply and demand. The consensus is that storage systems and technologies are the solution.

Spearheading this resourceful reconfiguration of industry is Energy Capital – a public-private taskforce on a mission to manage the West Midlands’ energy transition.

Transforming a former power station into a sustainable housing development and redesigning the city of Coventry’s energy infrastructure for a carbon-free future are among Energy Capital’s vast portfolio of projects currently inviting collaboration.

Most notable is the ambition to create the UK’s first zero-carbon hub in the Black Country – located at the heart of the region’s industrial landscape – where the viability of self-contained power storage to modernise anchor manufacturing methods, such as aluminium reprocessing, is being explored.

Manufacturing sector coupling into a reality

Already, there is recognition that the concentration of manufacturing expertise on offer here can help international companies break through, with Berlin-based Lumenion – a rising star of the German energy storage scene – citing the West Midlands as a standout destination in its search for UK-based manufacturing and sourcing partners.

Away from the factory floors, Centres of Excellence at the region’s world-class universities are also attracting industry interest, through a variety of trailblazing and collaborative research projects aimed at ending the reliance on fossil fuels and increasing energy efficiency.

Our region can translate the international desire for sector coupling into action, with a diverse industry landscape capable of stimulating integration between the energy consumer and supply sectors more closely.

Our influential manufacturing base has inspired growing clusters of supply chain specialisms in the region – notably in food production, life sciences and professional services consultancy – which, alongside multiple academic-industry partnerships, offers an experienced proving ground for cross-sector innovation.

Clearly there is scope for the region to emulate this model for energy storage and spark its growth and adoption across the UK.

The race to a greener future is on, and the West Midlands is in prime position to lead the charge for energy storage and unlock its industrial potential.

Adam Titchen's photo
Contributer

Adam Titchen Industry lead at the West Midlands Growth Company

Adam Titchen is industry lead at the West Midlands Growth Company – the region’s official Investment Promotion Agency (IPA) .

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