There’s an energy revolution taking place in Cheshire and sitting at its heart is Protos – Peel Environmental’s flagship strategic energy hub at Ince. We talked to Protos Development Director Jane Gaston about why the North West is primed to lead the charge on energy in the UK.

Climate change has never been higher up the agenda. The UK has committed to becoming the first major economy to reach “net zero” emissions by 2050, a task that whilst laudable will not be easy. The good news is that significant changes are already happening. We already have legally binding targets in place to reduce emissions, under the 2008 Climate Change Act, and major strides have been made in zero-emission technologies such as wind and solar.

Whilst reaching net zero is something that absolutely needs to happen one of the biggest challenges we face is how we do this without impacting economic growth. The government’s Clean Growth Strategy sets out plans for growing the national income while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Unsurprisingly, industry is one of the biggest culprits, responsible for around one quarter of UK emissions and around two-thirds of that is energy and heat intensive users, such as manufacturers.

This challenge has come into sharp focus in Cheshire. We have one of the best performing economies in England and the strongest in the North of England, but a large proportion of this is concentrated around our manufacturing and chemical production. All of which are energy intensive. In fact, over 5% of the UK’s energy is used in the north Cheshire area alone. In order to remain competitive, create new jobs and, importantly, safeguard the ones we have, we need to act.

Energy costs contribute to competitive manufacturing. When investors from around the world are looking where to bring their next logistics hub, commercial premises, industrial warehouses or specialised manufacturing facilities, they need not only the sites with access and infrastructure but an energy supply to make all three work, so their products can compete in global markets.

Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is one of the early leaders in developing a Local Industrial Strategy which will set out a plan for driving productivity and economic growth in the region. Part of the government’s long term plan for preparing and investing in the post-Brexit economy, Local Industrial Strategies are about delivering regional business growth and innovation. Energy is a core tenant of the strategy and an area in which Cheshire and Warrington is looking to lead the way.

It’s against this background that we’ve been developing Protos – Peel Environmental’s destination for energy, innovation and industry. Located at Ince, near Ellesmere Port, the £700m strategic energy hub clusters complementary businesses, including resource recovery and energy intensive industries, associated supply chain and energy generation. The idea behind Protos is that we can use innovative technologies to create value from waste, recover resources and provide low carbon energy sources which then can be used on site and exported to the heavy industry in the area.

As well as being able to benefit from the rich engineering heritage of the local area, our proximity to the University of Chester’s Thornton Science Park means we have direct access to a highly-skilled and futureproofed workforce, as well as state of the art facilities. With the ability to create up to 3,000 jobs and deliver £350m of GVA every year, it could be transformational for the region’s employment market.

At Protos, we’re looking to change the way we generate and distribute energy in the region, and beyond. With our partners in the Energy Innovation District (EID) we’re working to create an energy trading platform (or ‘microgrid’) where low cost, low carbon energy can be generated locally and provided directly to industrial, commercial and domestic users. The impacts could be huge with the aim to create a network where energy costs are cut by at least 20%. This will not only contribute to decarbonisation but will help to ensure that the North West remains a competitive place to do business.

The EID brings together energy users, network owners, innovators and partners working alongside Cheshire & Warrington LEP, Cheshire West and Chester Council and the University of Chester. The objective is to provide secure, low carbon and lower cost energy, via an innovative Smart Grid and Energy Trading Platform – in turn helping decarbonise the region and boosting economic growth and investment.

 Centred on the industrial heartland of Ellesmere Port, the EID will become a low carbon engine for the region, testing and deploying new and innovative technologies. This new whole energy system could set the blueprint for the UK.  We have the opportunity to be world leaders, testing the deployment of game-changing technology which could transform the way that people and businesses purchase energy in the future. The vision is that by using smart technologies consumers will be able to switch energy supply based on the most competitive price offering greater choice and transparency.

And it’s already happening at Protos. Earlier this year it was announced that the Ince Bio Power biomass facility was fully operational. Owned by Bioenergy Infrastructure Group it uses waste wood to generate enough electricity to power over 40,000 homes and the savings in greenhouse gas emissions equates to taking more than 40,000 cars off the road.

Progressive Energy is looking to develop the UK’s first commercial scale Bio-Substitute Natural Gas (BioSNG) plant at the site. The £150m project would generate renewable gas from up to 175,000 tonnes of bio-resources, including unrecyclable wood and refuse derived fuel (RDF). This gas will be used in the transport sector, generating enough gas to power up to 1,000 low carbon HGVs and buses every year.

We are also looking at opportunities to develop hydrogen energy with plans to build a ‘first of a kind’ waste plastic to hydrogen facility at Protos recently announced by Waste2Tricity. The plans will use pioneering technology from PowerHouse Energy which was developed at the neighbouring Thornton Science Park – a really great example of the seamless link between industry, innovation and energy in action.

Underpinning these projects is our investment in a major grid reinforcement project that we are delivering in partnership with Scottish Power Energy Networks (SPEN) which facilitates the microgrid at Protos.

Hydrogen has the potential to be transformational in the region. Peel Environmental is one of the founding members of the North West Hydrogen Alliance ( which has come together to highlight how the North West of England could make hydrogen energy a reality in the UK. Hydrogen could provide clean energy for our homes, businesses and transport networks. It offers a way to deliver low carbon energy because when consumed it doesn’t produce CO2, just water and energy.

We’re in a pretty unique position in the North West with the industry, infrastructure and innovation to lead the UK’s hydrogen energy revolution, bringing with it huge benefits to the region in new jobs, skills and investment. We’re looking at how Protos could cluster businesses together that support the hydrogen revolution. I believe 2019 will be the year that hydrogen is seen as critically important in the UK’s strategy to decarbonise energy and offers the North West a huge opportunity to lead the way.

In March 2019, a new group of industry, university and local government leaders came together to form a powerful new collaboration to secure game-changing investment in the future of clean growth in the North West of England. The North West Energy and Hydrogen Cluster covers the traditional industrial powerhouses of the Liverpool and Manchester City Regions as well as Cheshire and Warrington. Under the direction of the North West Business Leadership (NWBLT) the Cluster aims to become the UK’s first low carbon industrial cluster by 2030. With over £130 million of funding up for grabs from Government the opportunities are huge. The Cluster could see at least 33,000 new jobs created and over £4 billion invested.

The government is looking to regions to own their decarbonisation strategies and create plans that are bespoke. One of the big opportunities we have in the North West is to develop a viable and low cost Carbon Capture Usage and Storage (CCUS) offer in the UK, utilising the depleted Hamilton Gas Field in the East Irish Sea. This could be a game changer for UK decarbonisation and see up to 10 million tonnes of CO2 saved every year.

Cheshire is sitting at the heart of an energy revolution and one that could create opportunities right through the supply chain – from the large industrial players right down to local Cheshire businesses. With strong political support, backing from industry and the skills and knowledge from the University of Chester we could become a low carbon exemplar that’s world leading.

The role of energy and infrastructure is often overlooked but it’s essential to delivering economic growth and prosperity. If you can’t switch the lights on or get to where you need to be then how can we expect the regional economy to grow? I’d argue that decentralising our energy supplies is a vital part of devolution. The bonus is that while creating a new energy system for the region will give us greater control it will also provide a boost to the local economy, safeguarding our existing industries and creating new ones. We have the opportunity to lead the charge and make a real difference in the UK’s transition to a clean growth economy. We can quite literally ‘Power up the North’.

Jane Gaston, Development Director, Peel Environmental

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