Gigafactories

Have we stumbled on a consensus?

Gigafactories – Have we stumbled on a consensus?

Ronan Cloud, Director of Economic Development, explores the UK’s need to catch up on gigafactories.

When the  £4bn advanced battery manufacturing plant was announced to be developed in Somerset, the overall mood from across the political spectrum was celebration.

Gigafactories – a term to describe large scale factories that develop and manufacture electrical products associated with decarbonisation (such as EV batteries) – have become a hot topic for all the political parties.

They are seen as critical to decarbonising transport and accelerating the UK’s efforts on electrification. All while supporting skills and generating home-grown innovation that drives a clean growth economy.

Labour has identified around 40 sites for eight new gigafactories across the UK, whilst the Conservatives have made it clear that the potential new plant in Somerset will be a key part of it’s own growth strategy, bring jobs and investment into the country.

 

Playing catch-up

There is a clear need for this enthusiasm. The UK is well behind other nations when it comes to these facilities. The US has 34 such plants, whilst Germany and France have 12 between them. The UK, so far, has only one – the Nissan plant in Sunderland.

It’s clear that the UK has to catch up, particularly as the country’s automotive industry copes with the challenges it has faced through Brexit and the knock on effects to international trade.

 

Opposition on the move

As there is a political consensus, it would seem obvious to think that we will be inundated with new gigafactories over the coming years, with each party (including the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party) all clamouring to extol the virtues of these plants.

But, we could be wrong.

There are already some opponents to the proposed Somerset plant lining up. Environmental and green space groups, working with local councillors and campaigners, are starting to mobilise, putting local politicians at odds with their national leaders.

These stakeholders could cause issues throughout the planning process if not managed or engaged with effectively.

Therefore understanding how these plants and facilities could benefit local regions, towns and cities will be vital in ensuring a smoother time during the planning process.

 

The power of social value

Demonstrating the social value and future legacy each facility could afford will also be key. How many jobs will the schemes create and how will this generate more wealth and further employment locally? How will environmental challenges be overcome and how will the huge scale of these plants be matched with huge power – from renewable sources?

Answering these questions will be important as we move from nationally-focused announcements to the nitty, gritty of planning decision making.

Yes, we have a national consensus on gigafactories, but what about the local scene? Unless managed effectively, we could have a very different story.

This year’s Solar and Storage Live conference is set to be the biggest yet!

The industry descends on the NEC in Birmingham for its annual showcase event from 17th-19th October.

 

Coming out of the recent political party conference season, Solar and Storage comes at a time when the role of communities in the planning process, net zero and utility-scale solar are all firmly on the political agenda. With a general election on the immediate horizon too, clear battle lines are starting to be drawn.

Despite rumours in a recent Observer piece threatening a resurgence in proposed restrictions to solar farms on agricultural land, the sector can breathe a cautious sigh of relief that, as of yet, there has been no real evidence of a change in policy on this from Rishi Sunak. What the Prime Minster did do however, was to use his recent party conference speech to advocate for a wider rollback of net zero commitments to 2050.

In contrast, the would-be Prime Minister in waiting, Keir Starmer, has put commitment to the development of clean energy front and centre in Labour’s vision for power. At the Labour Party conference, Shadow Secretary for Climate Change and Net Zero, Ed Miliband, also pledged to bring forward an Energy Independence Act which would implement measures for the UK electricity system to be 100% clean power by 2030, and defend the UK against shocks in the global energy market. He also announced that Labour wanted to work with businesses to increase investment, with £2.5bn committed from the public purse to help clean energy industries.

Rejecting Sunak’s recent withdrawal of green policies and investment, Starmer stressed the importance of ‘speeding up’ investment in clean energy. Shadow Minister for Industry and Decarbonisation, Sarah Jones, when speaking at a fringe event on the role the gird can play in unlocking net zero, emphasised that listening to the views of local communities will be essential for this. For utility-scale solar projects, this could also mean rewards of discounted energy bills for the communities hosting them.

Energy Minister, Graham Stuart, will be addressing the industry in person in Birmingham this week. He spoke positively about the role of solar to meet net zero when he addressed the Solar Energy UK’s summer reception earlier this year, and delegates will be wanting to hear more of the same at the NEC.

Copper’s latest report of public attitudes to solar – published earlier this year – found overwhelming support for the technology. But local uncertainty of development naturally leads to doubts during the planning process where reassurance needs to be the strongest. The industry must cut through myths and misinformation to build meaningful consensus and a societal licence for the role which solar, particularly at a utility-scale, will play in achieving UK energy security and net zero.

 

Copper will be attending Solar & Storage Live from 17th-19th October – You can find Copper for a chat on RSK Group’s stand N11 in Hall 5.

On day two our Director Sam Cranston and Senior Account Manager Imogen Fawcett will each be sharing their insights on community-based solar engagement and how to gain public support. If you’re attending and would like to discuss what the recent party conferences mean for solar as we head into the next general election, or how we can bring communities along with us.

The Infrastructure Podcast: Episode 31

How we can best communicate change as we plan for more infrastructure to reach net zero targets.

 

Martin McCrink, Managing Partner at Copper joins infrastructure journalist and commentator Anthony Oliver on The Infrastructure Podcast. The podcast hosts a series of conversations with some of the key leaders and influencers across the UK infrastructure sector.

The podcast draws on Martin’s expertise and the projects which Copper is involved in. To discuss tactics of tackling and shedding a light on not only industry specific challenges and successes. But also, the wider issues facing the sector. Listen to the episode to find out more about:

  • The challenges around communicating infrastructure
  • Engaging communities where change is on the horizon
  • The speed of communications in the digital world
  • Building political support for projects
  • The challenges consultation presents
  • Redefining community based on data

Some key examples discussed in the podcast include HS2 project, London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone scheme and the latest debate over planning after the government vowed to give local communities choice and the power to veto projects they don’t like.

 

Interested in finding out more?

Delve into the latest thinking at Copper, or get in touch to discover opportunities to work with Copper.

Also, if you have a suggestion of someone who would make an interesting guest on The Infrastructure Podcast, get in touch with Anthony today. 

 

Reflections on a year with RSK: Strategy, culture, instinct and empathy make strong partnerships

There are fewer more important decisions to make at work than choosing to partner with another organisation to help take a business to the next phase of its life. Our partnership with RSK has proven to be the right one for Copper. Its worked culturally, strategically and created exciting opportunities.

Its a year since Copper joined RSK Group and Martin McCrink, Managing Partner, reflects on the first 12 months and what we have learned.

 

What we saw is what we got

When we first met RSK to talk about partnering, we had an instinctive positive gut feeling which was continually backed up by the decent, smart and entrepreneurial people we met. And that feeling has not gone away. We continually looked for clues and RSK did not disappoint.

Alan Ryder’s interview in the FT in January 2023 captures the sentiment and approach behind the business and what you read here rings true internally.

Every commitment and opportunity we discussed in those early meetings has been delivered or is underway. Firstly, Copper’s strategy, culture and identity has only been supported and enhanced by RSK – critical for a people led business. RSK’s approach has been to understand what makes Copper successful and help us build on it.

Secondly, RSK’s strategic idea for Copper matched our own business plan and that commitment remains. We’ve been able to break into new sectors, geographies and accelerated the service offering our clients demand. On our own, this pace of positive change would have been slower, more challenging and involved greater risk.

One example is our newly formed team in Copper. Copper’s pre acquisition brand and creative team has merged with RSK’s creative team to form a new Content & Creative practice at Copper – an expert team of copywriters, editors, branding specialists, designers, animators. This team has its own clients and improves the offer to all Copper clients to help our sector tell a better story to inform, engage and influence audiences.

Copper makes strategic sense for RSK Group too. Bringing communications strategy, stakeholder engagement and consultation expertise into RSK strengthens the group’s best in class in house team. RSK’s approach of bringing together successful businesses creates a client demand orientated offer to the market, a compelling pitch for talent and a thriving culture based on improvement, progress and support.

 

Net zero won’t happen on its own, we need take people with us

RSK’s breadth stretches across continents, languages, cultures and sectors including energy, transport, sport, economic development and food & drink. One common thread is the commitment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the net zero transition. We’ve seen from the recent political reaction in the UK about the reality of what the net zero transition means. Ultra low emissions zones dominated a by-election, new renewable projects require changes to the landscape and people will be increasingly be asked to change their habits and behaviours.

Just because reducing emissions needs to happen to safeguard a liveable planet does not mean it will. Nor does it mean it is easy. Without buy in, the transition becomes riskier for clients to deliver. Copper purpose is to change the political, social, media and public context to address this challenge. Being part of RSK means we can take on the most interesting challenges with the support of a Group with heritage and expertise in climate science, energy generation, consenting, water consumption and carbon management, to name just a few specialisms.

 

An open door for talent and a platform for opportunity

Since joining RSK, we’ve created opportunities to progress people’s careers by making the most of being part of the group. We’ve been able to unlock careers for people and retain talent within RSK Group.

Around 12 months ago, opportunities to work in different specialisms or geographies including the Europe, Middle East, Australia, Africa and South America would not have been serious or tangible. Today, they are part of every day conversation and career planning.

 

What have we learned?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but pre mortems are useful to share.

 

1. Instinct:

Gut instinct is usually right when making partnership decisions, but do not underestimate the intellectual and emotional commitment required to make it a success.

2. Decency:

Working with decent people is critical. There is no manual for how to make an acquisition work as they are all bespoke, but honesty and trust is essential – all of which requires smart, empathetic people.

3. Strategy:

Alignment on strategy has made working with RSK straight forward. Clarity, understanding and agreement reduces day to day wasted time and long term issues. We contribute to RSK where the entire Group is greater than the sum of the parts.

4. Culture:

RSK’s respect for Copper’s culture and vice versa has meant that the two organisations have seamlessly got the best out of each other. A clash of cultures would have been time consuming and distracting.

5. Mutuality:

We’ve been able to add a new dimension to RSK and RSK has helped Copper expand our horizons. This creates a partnership ethos. Without this, the relationship would feel one-sided and Copper would have felt like a guest, not a housemate. Our approach at Copper has, and always will be, to throw ourselves into scenarios and maximise their potential and by doing so we’re able to get the most support from a global, expert partner.

Leveraging legal experience in the world of communications

As a recent law graduate, you may be wondering how I ended up in the world of communications. More specifically… why infrastructure?

A totally intentional opportunity as actually, a lot of the planning process is governed by statutory requirements. In fact, throughout projects this is something that Copper must work around. Being able to witness projects going from pre-application stages to approval, allows me to apply the purpose behind planning law. Copper combines two of my interests, the law and sustainability, which is why I found Copper such a perfect fit.  

 

Sustainable impact outside the world of STEM 

Copper’s focus on renewable energy is an element that attracted me to the role. Previously, I was led to believe that without a background in STEM, roles that have an impact on sustainability would be limited. However, Copper has happily disproven my initial opinion. A lot of Copper’s work focuses on communicating the importance of green projects to key stakeholders, which is something I am passionate about. For example, working on solar farm projects which when complete, could deliver up to 50 MegaWatts of clean green energy. This all feeds into the wider picture, to contribute to the net zero promises the government has to deliver by 2050. It’s incredibly rewarding to be a tiny piece of the bigger picture.  

 

My journey into Copper 

How did I get to Copper? Securing my internship via the Taylor Bennett Foundation (TBF), an organisation that promotes better diversity in the PR industry as a whole. 91% of people in the profession classify themselves as white, meaning people of colour are seriously underrepresented in public relations, but with Copper the were no barriers to entry and the interview process amplified that. 

The entire application process was well communicate. Granted my interview in fact felt like a conversation. This style of interview put me at a lot more at ease. With the application process making me more comfortable, allowing me to feel valued as an individual and not ‘just a number’ or ‘just another intern’.  

My advice to anyone else applying to Copper for an internship is to vocalise your interests. Making your interests known to your team will allow them to support you in doing work that suits. I have been able to work across practices including Infrastructure and Strategic Communications, learning more from being given the opportunity to do so. Hopefully future interns will be able to gain just as much as I have from my internship! 

 

Copper’s company culture 

Copper’s involvement with TBF has translates well into the culture at Copper. Notably all team members have been inclusive, willing to introduce me to new projects and no question has felt too silly to ask. Allowing me to experience a seamless transition into the company, without ever feeling like an outsider.   

In fact, now that I have been here for over a month, I am learning that my team come from a diverse range of backgrounds. For example, my colleague Hannah worked at Disney in the theme parks and later, in a digital marketing role for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines before entering the world of corporate communications. Knowing that everyone has a variety of experiences before settling into their career makes me feel at ease, to think that everyone was once in my position.  

Overall my experience at Copper has been welcoming, exciting and intellectually stimulating. I am excited for all the new projects I’ll get to work on for the remainder of my internship at Copper! 

 

Interested in finding out more about Copper employee experiences? You can find out about Dylan’s intern experience here. 

Copper strengthens infrastructure offer with senior hire

Copper Consultancy, the specialist infrastructure agency, has appointed Lisa Childs to front the firm’s plans to deepen its Welsh presence. Lisa brings a unique outlook with varied experience and a values-led approach to both her leadership and her delivery.

Joining from the National Union of Students (NUS) and previously Heathrow Airport. Lisa has significant experience in public affairs and stakeholder relations.

As Director of NUS Wales, and UK-wide public affairs lead for the union, Lisa has shaped and developed policy in partnership with Welsh Government Ministers. She has also influenced opinion and built coalitions of support with both Members of the Senedd in Cardiff Bay and Members of Parliament in Westminster.

Lisa brings major project experience and a client-side perspective to the growing consultancy. Having led public affairs and stakeholder relations across the UK for the Heathrow Expansion programme, Lisa developed a wealth of experience in strategic, political and crisis communication. She was also Silver Commander for operational airport crisis scenarios, such as drone attacks and weather events.

 

Director of Energy Infrastructure, Sam Cranston, said:

“Through this blend of experience, Lisa will provide real value and insight at both a strategic and delivery level. Lisa will advise our clients on how best to mitigate stakeholder and political risk, understanding the local context. We’re also excited by Lisa’s leadership experience and know that she will be a valuable asset to internal culture here at Copper.”

 

Commenting on her appointment, Lisa said:

“It’s an incredibly exciting time for infrastructure, decarbonisation, and energy projects in Wales. We are seeing a confident Welsh Government drive forward an ambitious programme for change, unafraid to make big decisions. I’m looking forward to expanding on Copper’s proven track record on delivery for Welsh projects.

“Copper is a specialist agency with a long-standing commitment to and record of success in supporting clients in delivering decarbonisation initiatives. With ambitious growth plans, significant investment in the team, and the backing of the RSK Group, I am excited to add my skills and experience to the mix.”

The UK has been at the forefront of the offshore wind industry over the last decade.

With more than 10 GW of installed offshore wind capacity today, the UK establishes itself as a world leader, a journey which has seen capacity significantly increase from less than just 1.5 GW in 2010. The rapid growth of the UK offshore wind sector can be attributed to several factors, including government support, technological advancements, and the falling cost of this renewable energy. Copper Consultancy looks back at the accelerated development of this crucial energy source, and looks ahead to what the future holds for the sector.

In 2011, the Government made it clear in its UK Renewable Energy Roadmap that significant reductions in the cost of electricity from offshore wind was required to encourage development in the technology. Offshore wind energy was recognised as a crucial part of the government’s commitment to decarbonising the economy, and that innovation was necessary to achieve cost reduction on a large scale, to enable a more competitive source of renewable energy.

The Offshore Wind Cost Reduction Task Force was established in 2011 to produce an action plan for cost reduction, and in 2012 The Crown Estate published an industry report covering the same topic. Combined, these set the path for industry and government collaboration for the next decade which has led to the cost of energy from offshore wind dropping below even the best-case industry predictions at the time. When the Climate Change Act was passed in 2008, UK offshore wind projects were producing energy at roughly £170 per megawatt hour. Fast forward to present day, and this figure now stands well under £50 per megawatt hour, signifying a monumental shift and a journey which has helped encourage mass development.

During the last decade

The Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme was also set up by government to support low-carbon electricity generation thus incentivising investment in renewables. By ensuring developers receive a fixed, pre-agreed price for the low carbon energy produced, CfD provided financial assurance to developers which would incur substantial upfront costs and long project lifecycles before seeing a return on investment. For offshore wind, across the four CfD Allocation Rounds since the first in 2015, contracts have been awarded for 16 projects with a combined capacity of over 16 GW. This includes Orsted’s Hornsea Three in the latest round which is set to become the world’s biggest offshore wind farm.

While CfD is providing assurances to developers for projects that will become operational in the future, over the past decade a number of offshore wind projects pre-CfD have started generating electricity and adding tangible contributions to the UK’s low-carbon economy. Projects including Hornsea One (1.2 GW) and Walney Extension (0.7 GW) have been some of the first wind farms to navigate the development consent regime for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs), and have lived the project lifecycle from pre-application, through to construction and operation.

They have had to deal with the difficulties of traversing a new planning regime, including the requirements for developing detailed environmental information and delivering robust consultations to explain the impacts of these projects to stakeholders and communities. These projects helped pave the way and provided confidence to the industry that projects can successfully be delivered from start to finish under this regime. In total, 11 offshore wind farms have been consented through the development consent regime, three are in construction and eight are operational, with more currently in the pre-application stages.

Offshore wind has flourished.

This was more recently evidenced through Vattenfall securing the National Infrastructure Planning Association’s award for Best Project, for both its Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas offshore wind farms, which demonstrates how offshore wind projects have excelled and delivered best practice while tackling challenges around protecting the environment and delivering consultation and stakeholder engagement at scale.

Looking to the future, offshore wind is expected to play an increasing role in the UK’s energy mix. In 2019, the government passed legislation committing the UK to a ‘net-zero’ greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050, and at the same time the government and the Offshore Wind Industry Council signed a Sector Deal for offshore wind in the UK which included a target of 30 GW of installed capacity by 2030. This was increased to 40 GW in the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, which is nearly quadruple the installed capacity today, demonstrating the political backing and ambitions for the sector. In the 2022 British Energy Security Strategy the target was further increased to 50 GW of offshore wind by 2030.

Technological advancements will be a key factor in achieving this milestone.

We have already seen the size of the turbines increase, advances in technology to allow offshore wind farms to be built in deeper waters, the development of floating offshore wind, advances in cable technology, and more. Innovation is expected to continue, further reducing the offshore wind costs and facilitating even more, and larger projects to come forward.

However, this is not without its challenges. While the Crown Estate leases its offshore sites to developers all around the UK’s borders, there are only a limited number of onshore connection points where the electricity generated can be distributed to homes and businesses. With the UK’s grid capacity feeling the strain, offshore wind farms are often co-locating within the same local authority boundaries and being required to connect to the same onshore substations. Increasing the number of projects will exacerbate this, and significant upgrades will be required to the onshore transmission network over the coming years in order to meet the demands of not only offshore wind, but renewable energy generation in general. An independent report of the UK’s Offshore Wind Champion, released in March 2023, made recommendations and identified opportunities for government and industry to accelerate the deployment of offshore wind projects in the UK, and one of the key messages was to stress the urgent need to upgrade the national grid, as grid connections are increasingly becoming the rate-limiting factor for UK offshore wind deployment.

As more offshore wind projects come forward

The cumulative impacts are also likely to increase and the industry will face further challenges surrounding impacts to the environment, consultation fatigue and increased opposition from communities as a result. Stakeholder groups are already lobbying for an offshore transmission network review to help reduce the impacts onshore across multiple projects, and increased opposition during the consenting process could slow down project development and jeopardise the 50 GW by 2030 target.

It is more important than ever for developers to clearly explain their projects using accessible and engaging methods to build understanding and support among communities, and to continue developing projects within the policy framework set by the government. Collaboration will also be important to build understanding across projects and manage any potential cumulative impacts, especially during the construction phase.

Another key dependency for the development of offshore wind over the coming years is the capability of the supply chain. Having enough skilled workers available to construct multiple projects that move into the construction phase at a similar time will be a key challenge, and industry collaboration will be fundamental to managing this.

The offshore wind industry has already proven it can work together to innovate.

Through organisations such as The Carbon Trust’s research, deployment and development programme, the Offshore Wind Accelerator, and to collaborate, such as through the EastWind Offshore Cluster, which is set up to drive the implementation of the Offshore Wind Sector Deal (OWSD). Investment in local skills and employment will be critical to achieving the industry commitment set out in the OWSD of 60% local content by 2030.

Despite the challenges there is plenty to be optimistic about. Over the last decade the UK’s offshore wind sector has seen a period of rapid growth and development, making significant progress in reducing costs, increasing capacity, and driving technological innovation. Looking ahead, the fifth CfD Allocation Round, and both the Celtic Sea floating offshore wind and ScotWind 2 leasing rounds signify the next key milestones for the industry. The sector is poised for continued growth and success in transitioning the UK to a low-carbon economy.

For more information or to talk to us about Copper’s work in the offshore wind sector, please contact Sam Cranston at Sam.Cranston@copperconsultancy.com.

 

 

On 10-11 May, Copper joined colleagues from across the RSK Group for the annual All-Energy conference in Glasgow.

On the first day of the conference, Copper’s Director of Energy Infrastructure Sam Cranston led a session exploring whether the next UK general election will be won or lost on climate change.

The session shared findings from our latest public attitudes report exploring this question and what the energy industry can learn from voters’ intentions.

The main takeaways were:

  • Today’s issues matter most – Voters are focused on what they are feeling and seeing now – less money in their pockets, higher bills and costs, a growing NHS waiting list, strikes and the concerns around immigration, which voters feel is stretching already struggling public services.
  • The next election will not be won on climate change, but it could swing voters – Do not expect climate and environmental policies or pledges to feature front and centre at the next election – these messages will not deliver the same cut through as those focused on economic stability and measures to control inflation.
  • Climate change is important to people – Although political parties might strategically focus their messaging on the top issues in the electorate’s minds, this does not mean the sector should turn quiet on the climate emergency. The world continues to warm and the major political parties continue to double down on ever more ambitious climate targets that they need the sector to deliver.
  • Different audiences require different messages – Narratives supporting low-carbon energy will no longer work if delivered in a one-size-fits-all fashion. We need to catch up with other sectors that deliver more bespoke and focused messages to voters. This, in turn, gives politicians a better opportunity to reflect voter priorities.

 

You can read the report, ‘Will the next general election be won or lost on climate change?’ here – All-Energy-Attitudes-report-2023.pdf (copperconsultancy.com)

Copper is delighted to be hosting a roundtable in partnership with the Future Water Association on Thursday 25 May, 2:00pm via Zoom.

The discussion will focus on the findings of Copper’s report The Water pipeline – Readiness and reassurance: A study of public attitudes to the water sector.

We will cover the key findings of the report. Seeking input from attendees into the challenges and experiences they have had with stakeholder engagement across the water sector. We will discuss some of the opportunities that can be had by engaging early and often with stakeholders. As well as the challenges that the sector will face in meeting ambitious targets set by government, regulators and the wider industry.

Agenda

  • Welcome from Chair and Paul Horton, CEO of Future Water Association
  • Copper presentation on findings of the report
  • Discussion one: Experience and challenges
  • Discussion two: Opportunities and ways forward
  • Next steps and close

To RSVP, please email Jimmy.coles@copperconsultancy.com or register here. The webinar link will be provided in joining instructions a few days before the event.

You can find the link to our report here.