Board Insight

Northern Devon – being part of the Green Transition

By |

The need to plan and develop our own Northern Devon Industrial Strategy has never been more urgent. We are lucky to have visionary leaders who want to talk about “Market Leading Northern Devon”. Organisations like North Devon +, North Devon Futures and Petroc, working closely in conjunction with our District Councils, are riding point on this and helping to avoid having to make embarrassing apologies for our high levels of deprivation and productivity outputs 30% behind the UK average.

Change is a slow process we are told, well, is it? Look only at the fast-track new start high tech businesses which have achieved major market penetration in 5 years or less.

I have written on several occasions about Natural Capital being our unique selling feature within the next five years.

How can such an audacious claim be justified you might reasonably ask?

Converting natural capital into real wealth creation requires ambition, money, and great people. What is also now increasingly evident is that the need for raw sustainable energy has never been so acute. Take, for example, our inexhaustible appetite for any kind of machine that can deliver instant data.

Natural Capital assets are a key component for those who provide these data services. Next time you turn to Chat GPT, try asking how much energy it needs to respond to your query. The International Energy Agency reckons the answer is 2.9-watt hours or roughly 10 x as much as a Google Search. The excitement around AI helps to explain why electricity demand from data centres is expected to take-off. Companies such as Microsoft are investing currently around $10 billion in new renewable energy sources.

The challenge however is clear, demand from data centres will roughly double by 2026, from 460TWh to as much as 1,000TWh. Many of these centres will be located in tax friendly havens. Ireland, for example, is expected to account for 30% of overall consumption by 2026. They however have their own problems with their existing utilities and grid networks already being stretched. This has reached a point where Ireland will only allow new data centres to connect to the grid if they have the ability to switch to their own supply.

In the absence of raw natural energy, many providers will have to revert to new gas-fired power plants. This is certainly the case in the US. These Tech Giants are however extremely keen to do the right thing as far as their Net Zero targets are concerned, and keen to include within this benefits for nearby communities.

Northern Devon can provide green electricity. The problem however is that there are inconsistencies in the supply. Data Centres require uninterrupted service. It is necessary therefore to anticipate not only using our natural resources but also to provide for storage capabilities which can overcome the occasional sunless, windless, or grid outage day, thereby creating a market for long duration storage.

These are huge challenges, but equally this represents a huge opportunity for Northern Devon. We have the ambition and the people. We now need to ensure that we are talking to the right investors to ensure that we can secure the necessary capital for these exciting opportunities.