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  • Can the UK take the lead in renewable energy?

  • One region in the northeast thinks it has the answer.

  • I'm at the Port of Blyth in Northumberland.

  • This used to be the heart of British coal country.

  • But today it's home to some of the biggest and most exciting

  • green energy projects in the UK.

  • Pioneering advances in wind power,

  • a £2bn link to Norwegian renewables,

  • and the proposed site of a gigafactory for electric car

  • batteries, all within the space of a few miles.

  • The government is hoping projects

  • like these can paint the country in a green light ahead

  • of the COP26 Climate Change Conference in November,

  • while at the same time boosting its levelling-up agenda

  • to bring jobs and prosperity outside London.

  • The offshore renewable energy catapult right at the centre

  • of the port has come to symbolise these twin goals.

  • Boris Johnson himself paid a visit to its wind blade testing

  • facility in December last year.

  • Today, it's my turn to take a look around.

  • Hi, Tony.

  • Hi, Leslie.

  • And welcome to the world's largest blade test facility.

  • Let's go see it.

  • OK.

  • Let's go.

  • Opened in 2012, this giant complex

  • has tested some of the world's longest wind turbine blades,

  • some measuring more than 100 metres long.

  • So Tony, tell me what's happening here in this space.

  • What is going on here?

  • We call it accelerated life testing.

  • So this blade is designed for a 25-year life,

  • and we compress that into six months of testing.

  • There are two types of tests we do;

  • a static test, just to pull it, rather

  • like you bending a ruler when you're at school

  • and making sure that it can withstand that design strength.

  • And the other one is a fatigue test, where you bend it

  • as you bend a paper clip back and forwards,

  • and eventually it would snap.

  • This turbine, when this blade's at 12 o'clock,

  • it's almost equivalent in height to the Eiffel Tower.

  • Nowhere else in the world is capable of applying loads

  • at that scale.

  • One rotation of these giant blades

  • generates enough electricity to power a UK home for 24 hours.

  • The fact they are based on a new design

  • is also good for local jobs.

  • This blade in particular is destined for Dogger Bank

  • offshore wind farm.

  • Within probably one month of us completing the test

  • the owners secured the major contract to supply this blade.

  • And on the back of that they committed

  • to building a factory at Teesside,

  • creating 2,000 direct and indirect jobs.

  • Beyond testing, this government-backed centre also

  • provides support for research and innovation.

  • So far, it's helped over 800 companies

  • develop new wind and marine energy technologies.

  • And it's just part of the broader transformation

  • under way at the Port of Blyth.

  • I believe in the 1960s the Port of Blyth exported

  • 6m tonnes of coal to Europe.

  • Things have moved on.

  • We're ideally situated because we've

  • got the road and rail infrastructure as well

  • as the port facilities.

  • It's almost like a perfect storm that the Blyth Valley

  • is set just to move forward and flagship, hopefully,

  • the UK in green energy.

  • The port still handles around 2m tonnes of cargo every year,

  • but not coal.

  • And today it's better known as a support

  • base for offshore energy projects in the North Sea.

  • I'm taking to the water to find out why.

  • So can you tell us about all of the different facilities

  • and services that are offered here at the port?

  • Why has Blyth become such a centre for green energy

  • in particular?

  • So a combination of things, really.

  • We have the expertise of the port itself.

  • We have a huge supply chain that plugs in

  • at every possible angle, from manufacturing to fabrication

  • to painters, welders, scaffolding companies.

  • So when a company has a project that they're working on,

  • they're able to get everything that they need on site.

  • This ready-made supply chain has already

  • helped the port secure investment

  • to expand their services, including

  • training facilities for the next generation

  • of offshore engineers.

  • Now they're looking to expand even further,

  • converting the site of a former coal mine

  • to make room for low-carbon businesses.

  • It's the state's clean energy terminal.

  • The name comes from the pit that was originally on the site.

  • And the great thing about that opportunity is this shift

  • from coal into renewables is happening in front of our eyes.

  • Businesses will be attracted by solar power, electric plant

  • and machinery running on site and a tie-in

  • with this offshore renewable energy

  • catapult to look at all sorts of technologies

  • to help to decarbonise the nation.

  • Just across the river from the Bates terminal,

  • Camois is home to another symbol of Northumberland's fossil fuel

  • past.

  • Built in the 1950s, Blyth Power Station

  • burned coal for almost half a century

  • before it was decommissioned in the '90s

  • and eventually demolished in 2003.

  • Largely neglected since then, the site

  • still has an active connection to the UK's electricity grid.

  • And new energy enterprises have started to move in.

  • That's just a great expanse of land

  • which has still got the infrastructure that

  • connects directly into the national grid.

  • So as far as electricity production is concerned

  • you've got a ready-made socket.

  • Basically you just need to put the plugs in.

  • Anywhere else, you would have to develop a new network.

  • The North Sea Link will go live this year,

  • bringing in enough electricity to power nearly 1.5m UK homes.

  • But that electricity isn't being generated in Camois.

  • It's coming from another country entirely, more than 400 miles

  • across the North Sea.

  • I'm told the roof is the best place to get a sense of how

  • that power gets here.

  • Welcome to the roof of the converter station.

  • You've got a fantastic view across the port,

  • the station, the substation.

  • You can see it all from up here.

  • Amazing.

  • So tell me about the North Sea Link.

  • What is it, and what is it doing?

  • So the North Sea Link is a huge underwater electricity

  • cable between the Port of Blyth, where we are today, and Norway.

  • And it allows us to move renewable energy between Norway

  • and the UK.

  • So on a day like today, where the sun's shining

  • and the wind's blowing, we can potentially export energy.

  • And when we don't have a surplus of renewables in the UK,

  • we can bring in hydro power that's produced in Norway.

  • The North Sea Link is the longest interconnector

  • in the world, and it took six years and cost nearly £2bn

  • to build.

  • So Norway may seem like an unlikely energy partner,

  • but given the type of renewable energy

  • each country produce they're an ideal match.

  • Norway has a real abundance of natural renewable

  • energy from hydropower.

  • And it's a more stable renewable than some others.

  • So that makes it a fantastic exporter of power

  • and helps each country manage the intermittency

  • of renewable energy.

  • When bad weather drives down renewable energy production

  • the shortfall is normally filled by fossil fuel power plants.

  • By providing an alternative source of clean electricity,

  • the North Sea Link estimates it will save 23m tonnes of CO2

  • emissions by 2030.

  • But once the cable gets here it isn't as simple as plugging it

  • into the mains.

  • The site at Camois covers half a million square feet with

  • state-of-the-art technology.

  • It's all here to convert one form

  • of electricity, direct current, to another,

  • alternating current.

  • Hi Nigel.

  • Hi, Leslie.

  • Welcome to Blyth Converter Site.

  • Let's go and have a look.

  • Thank you.

  • This is the Valve Hall.

  • There's four of these on site.

  • And this is where the magic happens.

  • This is where electricity from Norway

  • is converted to a form which we can use in our houses

  • in the UK.

  • So what are the steps in this conversion process?

  • Inside of here, we have thousands of small valves,

  • and they switch on and off 50 times a second.

  • And that recreates the waveform and converts it

  • to alternating current.

  • The Valve Hall is just a small part of the operation here.

  • But despite the acres of pristine machinery

  • it will take only a few onsite workers

  • to keep this facility ticking over.

  • So while the converter station may

  • have replaced coal for the region's energy

  • needs it has not been able to replace the thousands of jobs

  • the coal industry brought to this area.

  • Since the pits closed, these areas,

  • the coalfield communities have suffered greatly

  • because of unemployment.

  • The question is, can green jobs ever

  • replace what we had with the coal

  • industry in areas like this?

  • And the answer is that it can.

  • It'll take an awful lot of doing,

  • an awful lot of investment from the government.

  • But why should areas like this not receive the required

  • investment?

  • It's no good having this green industrial revolution here

  • if it doesn't mean that we're going

  • to change the lives of the people in these communities.

  • The land next door to the North Sea Link converter station

  • has been bought by Britishvolt, a start-up looking

  • to build and operate a gigafactory in what

  • used to be Blyth Power Station's coal yard.

  • The company hasn't yet secured funding for the plant

  • but they have big ideas for the site

  • and for the local community.

  • The factory will be here in front of us,

  • covering all of that 3.4m sq ft with mezzanines when

  • it's built. It will be the fourth largest building

  • in Britain.

  • If it comes to fruition, what would this project

  • mean for this local area in terms

  • of jobs and the local economy?

  • Well, the factory is in three phases,

  • and we think 1,000 jobs per phase

  • directly with Britishvolt employment.

  • But we want to do a lot more than that.

  • We would hope by the time we're finished here we don't only

  • have the factory with 3,000 jobs,

  • but we think another 5,000 potentially in supply chain

  • as well.

  • That's the ambition.

  • Once built, the factory would have plenty of local renewable

  • energy to draw on in its effort to make zero carbon batteries.

  • But Britishvolt is still a long way from achieving that goal.

  • How much more money will you need

  • to build a project at this scale?

  • It's an expensive project.

  • We're looking at $2.6bn as an order of cost.

  • We've been through already our initial funding rounds, our A

  • round, our B series, E is open at the moment.

  • We've also made an application to the UK government

  • for the automotive transformation fund.

  • We're hoping that will come through soon.

  • That's what that fund was set up to do.

  • That's what we've applied for.

  • Yeah.

  • That's what we need.

  • There are still big hurdles to clear before this factory can

  • become a reality.

  • But this site and the wider region around it

  • prove there's an appetite for a British green industrial

  • revolution.

  • Whether that happens, and whether areas

  • like Blyth and Camois benefit will

  • depend on how the government balances

  • its push for clean energy with its levelling-up agenda.

Can the UK take the lead in renewable energy?