Conference tackles energy issues

SUSTAINABLE energy opportunities and challenges facing businesses across the region came under the spotlight at the East of England Energy Group's annual conference, held this year at Newmarket.

SUSTAINABLE energy opportunities and challenges facing businesses across the region came under the spotlight at the East of England Energy Group's annual conference, held this year at Newmarket.

Speakers at EEEGR '08 - the group's largest event to date, with nearly 200 delegates and around 60 exhibitors - included businessman George Morrison, of Norwich-based Aquaterra Energy, who said the University of East Anglia should offer engineering degrees to help generate the talent needed by the region's energy industry.

“If we want a sustainable industry, I believe our regional voices, such as EEEGR, should make this a priority target,” he said. “For our graduate needs, this would be like bringing water to the desert. I would estimate that for every graduate I can attract this summer, Aquaterra will be able to sell an additional £500,000 of export work next year.”

He added: “The nearest top engineering university to Great Yarmouth is Cambridge which, at 83 miles, is about as far away from any such institution as it is possible to get in England.”


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Mr Morrison's comments prompted a lively debate, and also a suggestion that companies could set up their own engineering degree schemes with university support.

John Best, EEEGR chief executive, said the best way forward was for the industry to speak with one coordinated voice through its Skills for Energy Partnership.

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The conference also focused on opportunities offered by diversification in the energy industry to the region's supply chain businesses.

“Many amazing opportunities lie ahead for the industry with a forecast 22 trillion dollar spend on energy by 2030,” said John Westwood, managing director of industry analysis group Douglas Westwood.

Gareth Brett, head of new nuclear for British Energy, said the potential for the supply chain in the East of England was enormous. “It will be stretched, possibly over-stretched,” he said.

British Energy was focusing on four sites with potential for new nuclear plants, including Sizewell and Bradwell, said Mr Brett. Building Sizewell B had already put £30million into the community and created 500 full-time jobs, and there were currently 25 apprentices.

However, he said the group recognised that local community interests were paramount and, even if progress was smooth, it would be 2018 before the first power was produced from a new plant.

John Sewell, UK operations manager for Perenco at Great Yarmouth, said he believed there was still 20 to 30 years of life in southern North Sea gas exploration and production. What was being done with renewables was admirable but energy sources such as gas would continue to have a vital role to play in the energy mix, he added.

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