Clean Energy Deep Dive: Overcoming obstacles to harnessing renewable energy at Port of Tyne

January 2020 seems such a long time ago now. Life has been transformed and politicians, entrepreneurs, financial analysts and environmentalists are all pointing towards renewable energy with great optimism as one of the routes to post COVID-19 economic recovery.  Being able to harness energy from wind, the sun and sea offers huge potential to stimulate the UK economy, attract financial investment and create thousands of new, green jobs. We can be very optimistic about this because clean energy has proved its resilience to recessionary forces before. After the 2009 financial crisis, the green economy continued to expand, while traditional sectors—like banking and financial services—floundered. Today, renewable energy is one of the UK’s great success stories, providing over a third of our electricity and thousands of jobs.

Port of Tyne is heavily involved with renewable energy and has just been named as the base for what will become the world’s largest offshore wind farm and a trigger for new business investment in the local community. In the next two years, we also intend to be recognised as a test bed for new renewable energy technologies and are actively welcoming approaches from all energy specialists. Our goal is to achieve a 90:10 split between harnessing and storing renewable energy for our own internal purposes, compared with selling any excess energy to the grid. Experts from the energy sector have been meeting virtually during recent 2050 Maritime Innovation Hub Deep Dives, sharing knowledge and ideas to help us achieve our green goals: carbon neutrality within the next decade and becoming an ‘all electric’ port by 2040.

The Port of Tyne has great potential to become a site for renewable energy production, with 75 hectares of accessible land across sites—including Tyne Dock, Royal Quays Enterprise Park, Howdon and Morston, plus North Bank—to provide us with the means to generate what we require. Our long term aim is to produce as much energy as possible through microgeneration, using the Port estate and a combination of wind, solar or tidal sources to satisfy our energy requirements with a consistent clean energy supply.  But doing this means overcoming the ongoing challenge of using renewables—balancing the universal issue of intermittent energy supply with a need for efficient energy storage.

Onshore wind energy generation is especially relevant for the Port of Tyne but comes with additional difficulties, many of which relate to the perceived safety and environmental risks of installing wind turbines in an urban community. All of these issues will need to be overcome in the coming years if we are to meet targets and maximise the potential of future clean energy projects. During our recent Deep Dive discussions, we also identified some additional challenges specifically relating to efficient energy storage and the potential to integrate wind with other forms of renewable energy to increase yields.


Integration with other renewables

As Port of Tyne transitions to become an all-electric port, our electricity consumption levels will rise. Our renewable energy strategy needs to reflect this increase and factor in future energy needs. Being able to integrate other forms of renewable energy and in particular, adding solar panels to onshore wind turbines, would significantly add to balancing the return on investment levels by increasing yields. Port of Tyne is particularly well suited to harnessing solar energy. We have a large estate of buildings, many of which have a southerly aspect and adding solar panels to roofs and onshore wind turbines for instance, could increase the total amount of energy produce-able by 25%.

Efficient energy storage

One of the problems with all forms of renewable energy, but especially when using wind as a source, is minimising any waste due to unused resource. Although we have plenty of wind in the north east, its supply variability means that some days will be more productive than others. Having the ability to store wind generated electricity—and all other renewable energy produced—to match the Port’s 24 hour consumption profile and timetable of peak periods, means it can become a sustainable and reliable source of ongoing energy.

Long term revenue opportunity with automotive industry

Looking further ahead to the future, our Deep Dive workshops identified some other aspects that are worthy of mention in context of wind energy strategy development. The Port of Tyne is the UK's second largest car export hub, handling more than 600,000 cars a year. Our customers—including Nissan and VW—are rapidly transitioning to manufacturing fully electric cars and it is entirely possible that through our renewable energy ambitions, we are able to facilitate ongoing battery charging for their new vehicles as they await onwards export distribution. This could become a significant value add as a logistics partner and important additional source of revenue for the Port.

Clean energy for cruise ship berthing and lay-by service users

A large cruise ship uses as much electricity as a small city of 10,000 inhabitants and increasingly stringent compliance policies are in place for ships to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. Port of Tyne is exploring how technology adapted for the defence industries could be used by ships to provide access to clean energy and reduce the use of high polluting marine fuels whilst in port. Using the PowerCon system as an example, this can convert a ship’s onboard frequency and voltage to match those onshore and help provide a source of  low cost, clean and renewable onshore power to thousands of people onboard whilst docked. We are exploring how this can be adopted by the maritime sector.

Exploiting the hydrogen economy

Even further ahead is the heavily debated issue of the hydrogen economy. As outlined in the Scientific American earlier this year, renewable hydrogen is being tipped as the means of achieving Europe’s target of full carbon neutrality by 2050. This is because hydrogen is the by-product of an almost endless natural resource. When wind is in abundant supply and producing surplus energy, this can be used to produce hydrogen through electrolysis, which is then stored underground. When demand for electricity peaks, the hydrogen can be converted back into electricity to avoid having to rely on fossil fuels through the grid. Identifying a way for the Port of Tyne to utilise this method would further enhance the return on investment achievable.

By inviting open discussion and collaboration between renewable energy experts through the 2050 Maritime Innovation Hub, the Port of Tyne will be able to accelerate its transition to carbon neutral and achieve our Tyne 2050 vision.

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