The blue economy and its ocean of opportunities

The blue economy and its ocean of opportunities


The new year and beyond will not be without challenges. Indeed 2021 has not had the most auspicious start but, with the vaccine roll-out, we will start to recover this year and must take an optimistic, positive, and forward-thinking approach to the opportunities which lie ahead and what the future holds for the subsea industry.

For much of our industry, that future will be blue – in a good way.

As the blue economy increasingly grows in scale and significance, it brings an ocean full of opportunities for the underwater engineering sector. Forecast to be worth around $3 trillion in the next 10 years it, along with the worldwide move towards energy transition – our green economy - has opened up exciting new prospects for companies agile and willing to consider how their capabilities can be applied across a diverse range of industries.

Technologies and skills which have been developed and refined for decades in the seas around our coast, initially and primarily to service our oil and gas industry, are now employed around the world.

Increasingly in demand in offshore wind, their application is eminently transferrable across all the emerging sectors of the blue economy with diversification opportunities in areas such as defence, floating wind, marine science, and aquaculture.

The UK’s underwater engineering industry generates annual revenues of £7.8 billion. While the lion’s share of that comes from the oil and gas sector, which will continue to be the main source of energy for many years to come, we must look to growth in these other blue economy industries. There is a rich prize there for the taking and a need to act now to secure and grow our global marketshare of these emerging opportunities.

As the representative body of the subsea sector, part of our role is to ensure that companies operating in this sector are armed with the market intelligence and other tools they need to help them capitalise on these opportunities.

To this end, Subsea UK is working closely with other industry bodies to build valuable, collaborative relationships with agencies working across the subsea environment. Our roots may lie in oil and gas, but as we look to the future, it’s important that we are not just associated with a single industry but recognised as a sector that cuts horizontally across, and has a place in, all the underwater sectors operating in the blue economy.

That has seen us forge links with the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), building a partnership and cooperatively running a series of webinars, providing real, practical advice on how subsea companies can do business in the growing aquaculture industry which contributes £885 million to the wider Scottish economy each year.

Through our relationship with Renewables UK, we run the annual cables conference, including Cables 2020, which ran as a virtual conference and enabled information exchange and cross-industry collaboration which will drive improvements and shared problem-solving approaches.

In partnership with DeepWind, we continue to raise awareness of the opportunities available to the subsea sector through the increasing emphasis on power generation through offshore wind – both fixed and floating. As such, we welcome BEIS’s review of the CfD process which will improve access to funding for floating wind projects.

We have a particularly close relationship with Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult – they have a base in our Subsea UK office in Westhill – sharing information on the challenges of the offshore wind sector. In partnership with them, we are planning a series of webinars on opportunities in floating wind and the developing opportunities for the subsea community.

We also work closely with the UK Defence Solutions Centre (UKDSC) identifying technologies and ways the expertise of our subsea sector can support and engage with the defence sector globally.

Associated with all of this is the groundswell of global activity towards energy transition and the goal of net zero. The subsea supply chain has a key role to play in this, with the experience and expertise to support the inception of a cleaner, greener future.

The UK government’s 10-point energy plan included three points of particular interest to the underwater engineering industry and its supply chain – offshore wind, hydrogen, and carbon capture (CCUS). All will be dependent in one way or another on subsea expertise to advance these energy streams from what are, still in some cases, pilot projects to fully functioning entities.

The £4billion investment committed to the plan aims to leverage three times as much private sector investment over the next decade, and there must be genuine engagement with the supply chain in order to unlock and maximise the benefits of that investment.

If we are to develop UK capability and create the right environment for growth, there must be clear supply chain strategy, a plan for how we will develop a specialist engineering, manufacturing, services, and technology sector that can support not only the 10-point plan but the wider move towards energy transition and net zero.

To achieve this there needs to be a tripartite approach in which government not only works with industrial corporate investment but engages with the subsea supply chain from the outset. Early engagement will ensure that existing technologies and skills are employed and adapted, and innovative, new disruptive cutting-edge technologies are developed to meet the needs of these growth sectors.

Funding commitments from both the Scottish and UK governments last year for the development of the Global Underwater Hub recognise the scale and potential of underwater engineering and technology as a valuable, standalone industry sector.

The worldwide underwater engineering market is expected to grow significantly, with annual spend potentially reaching £140 billion by 2035. The UK’s subsea industry, already globally dominant, must sharpen its competitive edge to remain ahead and gain a larger share of this market.

With significantly more, dedicated resources through a Global Underwater Hub, our supply chain will benefit from the right level of support at the right time to develop the disruptive technology and new services required to delve deeper into existing and emerging opportunities, at home and abroad, in the energy transition, green recovery and the blue economy.

Published: 09-02-2021

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