With nearly half of all UK renewable power generated in the north of England and extensive scope to scale-up offshore wind and develop tidal schemes, the north has the geological, geographic and historical assets to power and heat the nation.
It is leading the way in the transition to a renewable power supply and it’s also home to an extensive nuclear capability with a flourishing supply chain in research and professional services right here in Greater Manchester.
But the real energy revolution sits right under our noses.
As the government launches its Clean Growth Strategy, it is well worth remembering that although northern England’s days as a coal-fired powerhouse may be gone, it still has the attributes and natural advantages to lead in the take-up of new approaches, infrastructure and resources that will underpin a sustainable, low-carbon pattern of heat supply for the nation.
But to seize these opportunities, we need to see the same kind of strategic thinking that is happening in the field of transport and government needs to let Northern business off the leash to unlock investment.
Over the past 12 months, the Northern Energy Taskforce, led by IPPR North, has been working with energy stakeholders from across the region to devise a strategy that can unlock green growth in the North.
Independent assessments suggest that by 2050 the energy economy in the North could be worth £15bn per annum and employ over 100,000 people at the same time as generating low cost energy and hitting our climate change targets.
But we need action on three fronts.
First, with our world-class universities, manufacturers and historic skills base we must develop our potential as a breeding ground and leading destination for energy innovation.
There is a widely held view that opportunities to gain first-mover advantage and to become a world-leader in carbon capture and storage or utilisation technologies is perceived to be slipping away.
The journey from early-stage innovation to full commercialisation and scale-up requires careful navigation with support from public and private players both in Greater Manchester and across the wider north of England.
This is why our Northern Energy Strategy calls for a new Northern Energy Accelerator to support innovation and co-ordinate investment in partnership with Innovate UK and other national bodies.
National policy uncertainty has damaged investor confidence, so, secondly, we have proposed that Northern leaders strike a Northern Energy Compact with government, taking responsibility for their part of the national carbon budget (much as Scotland and Wales propose to do) but in return for greater freedoms and flexibilities regarding the regulations and incentives around energy generation.
But perhaps the most exciting energy opportunities lie in our great Northern cities.
As other developed nations are starting to show, the technologies we deploy in our homes and businesses are bringing energy generation – and energy savings – much closer to consumers and in the UK Northern cities have been trailblazing in this field.
Manchester Carbon Co-op, for example, have adopted ground-breaking approaches to financing and rolling-out retrofitting homes to massively improve their energy efficiency.
The Cheshire Energy Hub is carrying out cutting edge research on energy storage and develop ‘smart grid systems’ to manage demand as we slowly switch to electric vehicles and new types of heat generation.
But to really unlock these opportunities, cities like Greater Manchester need the freedoms and the funds to invest in local opportunities.
Just as the city has been trusted with more responsibility over health and social care, so we believe that the combined authority – working closely with business and energy distributors – should strike a local energy devolution deal giving it control over up to £47m each year in return for responsibilities over local energy efficiency and other community energy schemes.
On energy efficiency, we propose giving responsibilities to our local leaders and they might use the funding more effectively to really cut bills and support our more energy intensive industries.
This would also give them a greater incentive drive up energy efficiency standards on new-build housing too.
The Mayor of London has recently committed London to a Low Carbon Homes commitment that the government dropped, perhaps Andy Burnham should do the same.
Northern energy is a win-win-win: new jobs, lower carbon emissions and cheaper fuel. Price caps will only go so far, it’s time to kickstart the local energy revolution.