James McSporran: Scotland’s construction and logistics sectors must work more collaboratively to unlock benefits of energy transition

James McSporran: Scotland’s construction and logistics sectors must work more collaboratively to unlock benefits of energy transition

James McSporran

Peel Ports Clydeport director James McSporran considers the opportunities the energy transition presents to both the construction and logistics sectors in Scotland, and how the two sectors can work more closely together to reap the benefits and to accelerate their own decarbonisation goals.

There’s no doubt the energy transition is set to be transformative for Scotland’s construction sector. The government’s Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan, published earlier this year, carries a clear mandate to deliver an energy system this decade that enables us to become a net-zero nation by 2045. As demand continues to mount for renewable energy developments – from onshore and offshore wind to hydrogen, solar, marine and hydropower, and even projects aimed at improving the sustainability of existing infrastructure – there is an abundance of opportunities for companies in the sector.

The ports and logistics sector, too, has a vital role to play – one that has long been evident to myself and my colleagues at Clydeport, but that I suspect has been underappreciated by those not spending every day on the quayside. I was pleased, therefore, to see the Crown Estate, in its latest floating offshore wind leasing round, requiring bidders to clearly show their recognition of ports’ significant role in such developments. Although that particular leasing round applies to the Welsh and south west coast of England, the inclusion of such a condition will have lasting implications for developments all over the UK.

Crucially, both of our sectors are facing the prospect of delivering this critical infrastructure, while simultaneously faced with the ticking clock that is the obligation to reach our own net-zero targets. At Clydeport we have committed to being a net zero port operator by 2040 – five years ahead of the Scottish Government’s national decarbonising targets.

In my experience, the construction sector has traditionally viewed ports as an indifferent enabler of their operations; a point along the journey, and nothing more. Aggregates arrive at a port, are loaded onto trucks and transported to an intermediary site to be manufactured; the components are then put back on the road to be transported to the construction site. In reality, the modern port can offer construction partners so much more than this, and for both of our sectors to reap the benefits of the energy transition – as well as tackling the challenge of reducing our own emissions – we need to see a shift in this way of thinking, and fast.

Ports and terminals have the potential to act as a single point of consolidation for construction projects: they can accommodate fully operational manufacturing sites, batching plants and storage facilities. This means manufacturing raw materials into components at the port site, cutting out the middle-man and slashing the time, costs and carbon emissions associated with construction projects.

Much of the public funding made available for renewable energy developments in recent years has been directed to the east coast of Scotland, something I’ve spoken about publicly before. I’ve also spoken about how the west coast is primed to become a hub for renewable energy infrastructure in its own right, and we’re finally seeing that growing at pace now. XLCC, for example, was recently granted full planning permission by North Ayrshire Council for high-voltage direct current (HVDC) subsea cable manufacturing operations at our Hunterston PARC site, with work starting early next year. We estimate the project will create 900 jobs locally, not to mention the thousands more jobs it will create in the wider supply chain.

The West coast’s potential to play host to renewable energy developments was also recognised earlier this year, when Hunterston PARC was one of only 18 sites to be granted national development status under the Scottish Government’s National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4), designating it as a strategically important site with a key role to play in supporting Scotland’s transition to net-zero by 2045. The extensive redevelopment works we’re now planning at the facility as a result – let alone the slew of new developments that are coming down the line – will require us to work in close collaboration with our construction partners.

As well as the obvious impact these projects will make to our national net-zero goals, they’ll also unearth huge benefits for the local economy, bringing to bear the sustainable employment opportunities the west coast has been crying out for. With so much riding on this, it’s so important for us to get it right.

Using ports as a base for servicing these kinds of developments, and infrastructure developments further inland, just makes sense. Transporting materials into the UK in bulk over the quayside opens up cost savings with economies of scale. There is also the potential to dual loads, where multiple batches of materials are transported on one vessel and dropped at the numerous destination ports – we’ve been dualling loads on shipments to Hunterston PARC and the Port of Liverpool for some time, and it’s been hugely effective in eliminating the need for us to charter multiple vessels, not to mention the road miles it avoids.

This kind of end-to-end thinking will be essential to the success of both the construction and logistics sectors on the road to 2045 and beyond. If we can truly collaborate and share our respective knowledge and best practice, we can grasp the opportunities of the energy transition, make our sectors greener, and play a meaningful role in Scotland’s evolution to becoming a leader in renewable energy generation.

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