By selecting the right innovations and incentivizing investment, Scotland’s Green Freeports could become incubators for new technologies, helping accelerate the economy and place both Scotland, and the UK as a whole, at the forefront of the energy and digital futures worldwide.
Freeports may have previously been seen to merely be a customs mechanism to boost trade, with some even being criticized for their role in increased organized crime rates in areas in which Freeport status has been granted. When implemented correctly though, and with the added ‘green’ factor as now required in Scotland, these sites have the potential to become innovation hubs, with funding powers and flexible manufacturing facilities supported by research, industry investment and government policy; ultimately helping Scotland become a net zero world leader.
It is estimated that granting Green Freeport status to Aberdeen and Peterhead would create 32,000 jobs, and provide an economic boost worth £8.5 billion over the next decade, via a number of levers and tax incentives designed to attract inward investment and support expansion of existing businesses to invest, innovate and develop the skills needed to deliver a wide range of pioneering new green projects.
With it recently being reported that a final decision has been made on the North East Scotland Green Freeport bid, I've taken a look at five industries that could have huge potential in an Aberdeenshire and Peterhead Green Freeport.
Floating offshore wind
The UK currently produces just over 10 GW of energy from offshore wind farms; a figure that is planned to increase by an additional 40 GW by 2030. The ports of Aberdeenshire and Peterhead are well positioned to support the manufacturing and maintenance of new and existing offshore wind farms, thanks to their location and the abundance of expertise in offshore facilities, from those in the oil and gas sector.
There may still be much to learn and innovate in the offshore wind market – such as how best to move from fixed-base platforms in shallow water to floating platforms further offshore, but the North Sea is a prime location for experimentation and exploitation of these technologies. It therefore feels a natural fit to see a Green Freeport in Aberdeen and Peterhead become the home of exploration into new and more efficient techniques, and the manufacturing and the sale of the required infrastructure.
Drones and flying taxis
There is a green revolution starting in aviation, and it’s already starting to influence the maritime industry with large drones being used for sea rescue and survey. A combination of new battery technology, superior wing design and new materials are now enabling the design of cutting edge all-electric aircraft. With the UK already being at the forefront of the development of this technology, there is a real opportunity to capture such a lucrative manufacturing market in an Aberdeenshire and Peterhead Green Freeport.
A Green Freeport such as that proposed in Aberdeen with access to a local airport for flight trials and tests would prove an ideal location for manufacture and integration of this exciting new technology.
Hydrogen fuel for maritime transport
Storage space and transportation are key considerations in the use of hydrogen as a fuel. With liquefied hydrogen typically being imported via shipping and natural gas pipeline infrastructure (which holds the potential to be converted exclusively for hydrogen transportation use), production and storage of hydrogen as a fuel could be best suited to an Aberdeenshire or Peterhead maritime port and its surrounding areas.
Hydrogen is one of the fuels that has a high potential in fuelling maritime transport, and transferring the UK’s proven skills in hydrogen aviation to maritime is a small step that could yield large results – and job opportunities – if manufacturing centres within an Aberdeenshire and Peterhead Green Freeport area were created.
Small modular reactors
The main feature of small modular reactors is that, instead of the traditional construction site, subsystems are manufactured in sections and then transported to the reactor site, where they are fully assembled.
Alternatively, instead of a large traditional construction site, subsystems could be manufactured in sections to be assembled on the reactor site, within the Green Freeport. This would be more efficient due to economies of scale and the use of standardised manufacturing processes for its components. Any Green Freeport could be an ideal location for these standard components, particularly those that rely on imported subsystems or raw and processed materials.
Many of the small modular reactor components would rely on high-quality manufacturing, and Aberdeenshire and Peterhead’s maritime ports and the surrounding areas have the infrastructure and skills potential for this industry. Small modular reactors have the potential to revolutionize low-carbon power around the world, with it being feasible that every Aberdeenshire and/or Peterhead port has at least one small modular reactor powering their surrounding areas, and its ships. Further, with energy facilities decommissioning at a faster rate than new build, this could be the impetus needed to retain the UK’s nuclear industry.
Floating data centres
The global thirst for data is increasing exponentially and is likely to continue. Data storage and retrieval requires electrical power for running the computers, keeping them cool and communicating the data around the world.
There could be a scenario where data storage was entirely green. One technology prime for utilization within a Green Freeport is subsea data centres. With the likes of Microsoft sinking their experimental subsea data centre in the waters around Orkney, the idea of storage and computing underwater now seems to carry huge potential. Perhaps the answer to our ever-increasing thirst for data storage and computing power is to create an offshore combined economy of submerged power generation and data, using technologies such as wave or tidal to power subsea data centres?
An Aberdeenshire and Peterhead Green Freeport has the very real potential to become a hub of innovation, manufacture and maintenance, hosting these offshore green data services and bringing hi-tech jobs and commerce to remote communities in the North East of Scotland.