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Port of Tyne gears up for offshore revolution

Posted on 30 March 2020

Port of Tyne gears up for offshore revolution

SIMON BRETT, the port’s commercial director, explains the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead

Record breaking offshore developments and decommissioning infrastructure see the North Sea on the brink of an offshore revolution, as power generation shifts from oil and gas to renewables, so ports on the UK east coast have shown that facilities, skills and experience are readily transferable.

Rising to the challenge, the Port of Tyne in North East England has land readily available, deep-water, lock-free access and is closer than any other port to Dogger Bank, the site of potentially the world’s largest offshore wind farm.

Simon Brett, the port’s commercial director who started his career at the Crown Estate and led the Siemens Gamesa Green Port Hull project for Associated British Ports, knows all too well the challenges offshore manufacturers face in finding solutions to their operating and maintenance supply chain.

“The picture for offshore wind development is complex, efficiency is key and capacity must be matched by innovation and collaboration,” says Simon.

The Port of Tyne is championing collaboration through the UK’s first 2050 Maritime Innovation Hub, a partnership of organisations from maritime, logistics, technology and academia.  It opened its doors at the Port of Tyne just last year, and is already focusing on a range of projects to advance maritime innovation from autonomous systems, AI, smart sensors, block-chain, and big data analytics.

Offshore wind manufacturers have hurdles to overcome, as Simon says: “The challenges of operating in a European market and the need to meet the requirement for 60% UK content mean strong partnerships with ports and others in a complex supply chain will be essential.”

UK east coast ports have played a vital role in servicing the offshore power sector for decades, from the earliest days of North Sea oil and gas in the 1960s to the emergence in the 2000s and rapid development of the wind power industry.

“Through our partnership in the 2050 Innovation Hub, Port of Tyne is already building a strong relationship with other UK ports including Teesport, but we believe that further collaboration between the UK and international ports will be the key to unlocking the potential of North Sea wind farms,” adds Simon.

Significantly, ports that have always been competitors are working together, setting aside their commercial issues and recognising that much more can be achieved through collaboration. Rather than competing against each other to everyone’s disadvantage, ports can work together and offer collaborative solutions to offshore companies.

Thinking differently is certainly something that the Port of Tyne is quickly becoming known for. Recently launching its Tyne 2050 strategy, which is aligned close to the UK Governments Maritime 2050 plan, the Port aims to drive further transformation in the ports and maritime sector. Amongst its ambitions, the Port of Tyne is looking at the opportunity to create a ‘green tariff’ for low-emission vessels, future-proofing port technology and creating an all-electric port.

In addition to innovation and efficiency, almost a prerequisite for most offshore manufacturers is the need for substantial hinterland alongside deep-water. Deep-water and easy access is a key component to manufacture, assemble, store, load and offload giant turbines, blades and towers.

The Port of Tyne has been busy redeveloping 30 ha of reusable land to extend Tyne Dock Enterprise Park, creating 75 ha of development land with 10.5 metres of water alongside lock-free access. Adjoining this site are 13.5 metre deep-water berths and a well-connected mature logistics infrastructure in and around the Port of Tyne.  Major infrastructure development and river dredging enables 83% of the world’s largest cargo ships to be accommodated at the Port of Tyne, making it ideally placed to become a major hub for the manufacture and maintenance of vessels and equipment to service the emerging offshore supply chain.

Undoubtedly one of the many advantages gained from North East England’s long tradition of shipbuilding and heavy engineering and its wealth of experience in the oil and gas industry sees an already thriving offshore cluster, based on Tyneside. With a number of subsea support businesses, including Smulders Projects UK, Technip, Duco, SMD, Wellstream, Bridon Ropes, A&P Tyne, Bibby Offshore and Maersk Training based close to the Port of Tyne. Nearby specialist industrial research and academic centres offer renowned research and development capabilities.

Narec, the National Renewable Energy Centre, offers open-access testing facilities and expertise for offshore wind.

Five universities and a number of further education colleges are located in the area, offering industry-relevant courses, training and qualifications aimed at delivering a world-class labour force for the offshore wind sector.

“The opportunity presented by offshore wind is multifarious, it’s huge but by working together to provide the right combinations of research, innovation, collaboration and proactive support to suppliers, shippers and developers we can provide the right environment for this bourgeoning industry to flourish and grow,” says Simon.

Unlocking the opportunities in the offshore wind supply chain and renewal energy markets has the potential to see the Port of Tyne’s economic impact increase significantly in the future – until then the combined impact of the Port’s operating activities supports 12,000 jobs and adds £621m to the regional economy each year.