Underwater engineering: the UK can ride the blue economy wave

The drive towards net zero presents exciting subsea opportunities to develop solutions that support the energy transition, capitalise on the blue economy and win more business overseas, writes Trevor Garlick, Chair of the Global Underwater Hub

For decades, the North Sea oil and gas industry has been recognised as an underwater technology pioneer. This has enabled the UK to become the leader in the global underwater energy sector, with 40% of market share.

Today there are more than 1,000 companies with expertise in the underwater sector, supporting 45,000 jobs across the UK. The highest concentration of companies is in Aberdeen, with other clusters in Scotland’s central belt, North-East England and the South of England.

The UK underwater sector will play a crucial role in helping deliver net-zero targets by creating a thriving blue economy across multiple industries, from offshore wind to aquaculture and defence to hydrogen production. The synergies in floating offshore wind developments will be huge.

Opportunity for green growth

The UK’s underwater expertise, engineering skills and manufacturing capabilities mean the country is perfectly poised to take a larger slice of the global underwater market, predicted to be worth more than £100bn by 2035.

To realise this significant potential, Opportunity North East, Subsea UK, Scottish Enterprise and the Oil and Gas Authority have worked together to develop an exciting vision: the creation of a Global Underwater Hub that will connect and grow the UK’s underwater sector at home and overseas.

Building on and integrating the excellent work of Subsea UK, the Hub will accelerate the growth and innovation of UK businesses by building on our existing strengths, and make a step-change in the development and internationalisation of technology and services.

Led by a team in Aberdeen, the Hub will also have a physical presence in England. It will provide global market insight and cross-sector sharing and collaboration, with skills and company support also identified as key areas within the proposal.

By connecting the underwater sector with international market opportunities, the Hub will ensure the UK can grow in emerging markets that rely on underwater expertise, such as offshore renewables and carbon capture and storage.

It will facilitate collaborations between companies, industries, government and academic institutions. Cross-sector alliances will be created to drive innovation in new underwater solutions that support the shift towards a low-carbon society.

Industry commitment and government support

We have developed a robust investment case in what is arguably one of the UK industry’s biggest opportunities for revenue generation across the next 15 years, and one that can make a significant contribution to the UK’s focus on accelerating the achievement of net zero.

The Hub already has strong commitment from industry and governments, which recognise the huge potential for green growth across sectors spanning oil and gas, offshore renewables, aquaculture, defence, maritime and communications.

Earlier this year, we welcomed the announcement of the Scottish Government Energy Transition Fund, which includes a commitment to help fund the Hub, and we are hopeful that the UK government will also provide matching funds support.

Investing in the creation of the Global Underwater Hub can help deliver a UK sector revenue increase from £8bn to more than £40bn annually, and generate an additional £45bn in value to the UK throughout the next decade. The domestic and international prize is clear, and the time for investment is now. This is a very competitive global sector, and the UK can remain the leading player.

By Trevor Garlick, Chair of Opportunity North East (ONE) Energy and the Global Underwater Hub