Lessons from Offshore Wind Connections 2024

Lessons from Offshore Wind Connections 2024

The offshore wind sector is, if you pardon the pun, full to bursting with energy, and in a few hours that whizzed by faster than the blades of a Hornsea 2 turbine at peak capacity, so much knowledge was generously shared and relationships warmly strengthened at today’s Offshore Wind Connections conference; the future of the Humber region looks brighter than ever. This jam-packed 24-hour conference brought together a diverse group of industry professionals who are all advocates for offshore wind, the Humber region and the benefits of renewable energy to a planet that needs all the help it can get.

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I couldn’t capture as much as I wanted to as it came thick and fast and I’m no journalist, but, for those who weren’t lucky enough to be there, I’ve reflected on what was shared while I was there and provided my take on it. I’ve focused on the supply chain element, as that’s where we as an agency operate. Why was I, a marketing agency owner, hanging around with people who put people up turbines, solve complex logistical problems and go above and beyond to make the UK’s energy supply greener? If you’re asking that, you probably haven’t followed me or Knapton Wright over the past couple of years: we work with brands that put the planet first, and that’s what the OWC, Humber Marine and Renewables showcase conference does day in, day out. Our clients were there, our collaborators were there - looking at you, Graham Allen - and I’m keen to keep learning about this fascinating sector.

This isn’t a blow-by-blow account of the day, I’ll leave that to the news channels, it’s more of a handful of points that show why the Energy Estuary’s journey is, to borrow an early 2000’s Facebook phase, 1% finished. 

The overarching themes of the day seemed to be:

  • Investors want to put money into this region to drive progress
  • We have to go as a united Humber front with a common vision and purpose
  • This is a sector that people used to end up in almost by accident, but now they set a path for it and actively seek it out
  • This won’t come easily, a lot more hard and smart work still needs to be done

One of the many reasons we focused the agency on brands that put the planet first is that we are right in the heart of one of the most influential and important renewables clusters in the UK if not globally. We work with businesses that wouldn’t have existed ten years ago because there wasn’t the technology, the understanding or the supply chain in which they could operate. Corrine Barry, East Coast Director of Net Zero at RWE talked about the pace of change in her keynote talk; her own rise through the sector mirrors this, in some ways, and now she’s one of the most passionate advocates for Net Zero and the role offshore wind can play in achieving it, as well as the need to nurture young talent, and nurture it quickly.

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The opportunity for young people to get into offshore wind and for more experienced people to transfer their skills was clear from all speakers and from the exhibition hall, where CATCH, the University of Lincoln and the University of Hull all had representation; importantly, it was collaborative representation, with a significant focus on the Humber Freeport

It’s at this early education stage that the strength of the region’s unity reflects the need for SMEs to present the best version of themselves to the supply chain for offshore wind, and the renewables sector as a whole. Thousands of jobs are expected to be created over the next ten years and, in spite of Morten Holm, head of Hornsea 2 at Orsted, suggesting that a high percentage of the people currently commuting to Orsted’s East Coast Hub come from within an hour away, there probably isn’t enough talent in the pipeline as it stands to fulfil the requirements. Although the work that CATCH and others are doing and the investment they’re making suggests that the pipeline will expand rapidly!

Given the frequency with which investment was mentioned throughout the day, it seems apt to provide links to the Industrial Growth Plan that Renewable UK and The Crown Estate launched recently, and The Crown Estate’s Supply Chain Accelerator fund which is “an initial £10m pilot launching this summer to support supply chain opportunities created through the Offshore Leasing Round 5 in the Celtic Sea, and a further £40 million earmarked to support innovation aligned to the Industrial Growth Plan to boost long-term growth of the UK offshore wind sector ”. Both suggest exciting times ahead, not only through the financial investment but also through the trust and commitment to the sectors and the regions supporting and driving them.

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It’s no coincidence that Graham Allen and I (through the agency) have been working together on projects over the past twelve months to enable SMEs to be both strategically prepared and presenting the best version of themselves with their marketing. Any supply chain is a highly competitive place to operate, and the offshore wind and wider renewables environments are no different; often, they’re more challenging as they have developed at such speed that even long-established businesses struggle to keep up. Given the commitment Graham and I have made to working together in this area, it was reassuring to hear industry experts like Emma, George, Jonathan and Marc advocating for businesses to be prepared for digitalisation, be prepared to do what it takes to succeed and collaborate so hard that you’re close to breaching competition law (I won’t write who said that, just in case it was a bit close to the wire!).

Investors want to put money in to drive progress. The supply chain is huge and growing every day. Competition for work is strong but the pace of growth means there are opportunities wherever you look, as long as you’re prepared to keep going and find ways to navigate the inevitable blockers that cash flow and scaling can bring, as mentioned by Emma Mason from OPS Wind. 

Given Graham’s extensive experience across supply chains for construction, utilities and more, and the fact he was sitting next to me, I thought I’d get his take on it: “I think it’s about the procurement process, contracting models, and the right behaviours, which means collaboration. This is what big business needs to consider to make themselves more attractive and it’ll help stop the supply chain from focusing on other sectors.” And he’s right, this isn’t, or at least it shouldn’t, be a beauty parade for the SMEs in the supply chain, the bigger companies at the “top” need to put on a good show to demonstrate why SMEs should stick at offshore wind and renewables as a whole.

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As a cluster, we need to be clear on what our needs are in order to move forward. I write “we” as my agency is in there: we enable businesses to use strategic and creative marketing to showcase their strengths, recruit and retain the best people and hit/exceed their growth targets. This is a “we” situation, much like the time-old story (paraphrased) of the chap sweeping up the rocket launchpad who said he helped put rockets in space. Jonathan Oxley, director of the Humber Cluster at the CBI, said: “In this region we have more in common than we do in difference, so let’s work together on this.” It’s also worth noting that several of the speakers and panellists at OWC made the hugely important point that the Humber region has the infrastructure to enable and allow organisations to keep scaling, to keep innovating and to make the offshore wind sector bigger and better.

There was some level-headed and interesting advice from Bailey Bradley of XceCo and Lynne and Inner Dowsing Offshore Wind Farms, who talked about how young this industry is and that it’s making mistakes as it goes along. Large players have had to slow down, at times, to take stock and plan their next moves. Like in many sectors, it’s important that SMEs learn from larger operators like Centrica, where Bailey used to work, but also that the larger operators learn from SMEs who are good at taking a practical and realistic view of pricing and what something costs. The smaller end of the supply chain tends to know how to price things well and how to be open about it, which is something the larger players would do well to take note of. This is certainly something I’ve seen across other sectors and at other times in my career, having worked in a couple of start-up environments at the same time as working with the “big corporates”. It’s also something we deal with day in, day out, when exploring the concept of a business’s brand and how it communicates with its audiences.

As I wrap this up, I want to leave you with a couple of points, made by Ajai Ahluwali from Renewable UK and George Moore from SMC respectively: competition is a great thing, it drives innovation and success but you have to put in the hard yards and be frank and honest about what you can deliver, then deliver it well so you can deliver beyond the first piece of work. Sage advice, I think, from experts in a sector that is looking to the future and scooping up those who have the passion and expertise to help it get there.

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