By Pryderi ap Rhisiart, Managing Director of M-SParc
Climate change and Covid19 are occupying large sections of our news – and rightly so. And it seems more and more of us are considering the potential of how we respond to one, may have a positive impact on the other. Here in north Wales, and at M-SParc I believe we are well-placed to promote this potential.
The UK Prime Minister’s 10-point plan, for a “Green Industrial Revolution” announced recently, has received a warm welcome from some quarters – but some experts feel it doesn’t go far enough. Whichever side of the fence you’re on, there’s no denying that a post-pandemic recovery holds the key to doing things better. Better for our health, better for the environment and better for the economy.
We’ve been talking about tackling climate change for a long time – so what’s new? The short answer, a global pandemic. We have had to make real changes to our way of life to keep ourselves and loved ones safe, there’s a realisation that all of us have a real role to play. No matter how small. By applying this same mindset, I believe we can do the same as we tackle climate change, as we look to use our resources more wisely and to be more innovative as we look for solutions that work.
This renewed commitment to developing a low carbon economy and the ambitious target set for the creation of 250,000 green jobs is to be welcomed. In north Wales we already have a tradition of innovation and skills in the low carbon and renewables sectors – so we’re ready to hit the ground running and to play our part, and to do things better.
Clean energy and digital technologies are fields that M-SParc was developed to support. So, we’re confident that, along with our partners, we can ensure the region is a key player in almost all the sectors highlighted in Boris Johnson’s 10-point plan.
Top of the list is wind energy. Anglesey has been known for harnessing wind power for many generations. From the 18th century wind was used to power nearly 50 windmills across the island – built to grind grain from local farms. Since then we’ve seen onshore wind generating electricity here on Anglesey for many years, with some of the first turbines installed back in the mid-1990s. Now, as we look to offshore wind, north Wales is set to play its part again. The Gwynt y Môr offshore development is already up and running and generating enough electricity for around 400,000 homes. The proposed Awel y Môr wind farm could see this increase significantly – making an important contribution towards both UK and Welsh Government’s net zero carbon targets.
This is great news of course, but benefits don’t end there, as important local supply chain and skills opportunities arise from major projects like this. Homegrown businesses like Papertrail and Animated Technologies based here at M-SParc, are already working with some of these large developers, using the latest innovations to improve processes and efficiency.
Hydrogen technology, also featured in the ten-point plan, is another sector where we are seeing exciting developments here – with recently announced plans for a new hydrogen hub at Holyhead. Driven by local social enterprise, Menter Môn and partners, including ourselves at M-SParc, the proposals would see the production of hydrogen as well as a fuel distribution centre. It’s a small first step, but the project has significant scale up and co-generation opportunities. With the support of Welsh Government and the area’s major employers this is set to be a first for Wales and the potential links to local renewable energy projects play into these plans. I’m especially excited to see Bangor University developing a research proposal around hydrogen which align with these plans.
Anglesey’s potential role in the nuclear industry has long been recognised. But plans have recently hit the buffers with developers pulling out of the Wylfa Newydd programme. With the announcement that nuclear is still expected to play a role in decarbonisation, we’re looking forward to hearing more about government plans. Whatever role nuclear is to play in the future energy mix, as with every other low carbon development we are keen to ensure that the region benefits from any investment. The skills are here, as are the training facilities with the specialist STEM centre at further education college, Coleg Menai in Llangefni and the Nuclear Futures Institute in Bangor.
It’s appropriate with all the talk of electricity generation that north Wales is specifically mentioned in the new plan in the context of electric vehicles (EV). Opportunities in this field are limitless and we’re ready to step up to this challenge. There’s a way to go yet until EVs become mainstream but we need to push for greater innovation and to roll out new technology which will make it easier for people to make the shift. When we developed M-SParc, installing fast EV charge points was never a question of if, but how many. This is small step in the greater scheme of things, but it’s an indication of our commitment to promoting cleaner and greener transport.
Looking to the future we will continue to seek ways to reduce our impact on the environment. We’re investing in additional solar panels at M-SParc next year and are working with students at Bangor University to measure our own carbon footprint. It will give us a benchmark so that we’re well placed to make further interventions, ensuring we stay true to our vision of a low carbon future.
Since we first opened, we’ve put a lot of effort into promoting a greener agenda. By working with our partners in the academic and public sectors, as well as with innovative businesses we can make sure environmental benefits are achieved as we recover from Covid19. At M-SParc we’re ready to raise our game and ambition in terms of climate, and for carbon reduction – let’s hope that the new plan will provide the stimulus needed for us all to play a part.