Kate Wallace Lockhart, Head of Sustainability, SSE Renewables
“How do we transition to net zero and build up the renewables we need, in a way that respects our planetary boundaries and the natural world?”
This isn’t a rhetorical question for Kate. She’s working with others across the sector to deliver real change, including developing an initiative to create a circular economy for the wind industry.
In our recent conversation we explored the factors which have been important the successful development of the Coalition for Wind Industry Circularity.
I encourage you to listen to the full interview, in the podcast episode above, not just to get more insights, but also to be inspired by Kate’s enthusiasm that I can’t convey here!
Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- SSE Renewables
- We need to act now
- Renewables and Sustainability
- Breaking the link between the growth of renewables and resource use
- Creating a circular economy for the wind industry
- Solving practical problems
- Establishing the Coalition for Wind Industry Circularity
- The benefits of collaborative approaches
- The importance of hearts and minds
- What makes CWIC work?
- Links & resources
SSE Renewables is part of SSE, an energy company headquartered in Perth, Scotland. It’s building more offshore wind than any other organisation in the world, including the world’s largest offshore wind farm off the northeast coast of England.
It’s a very exciting company to be part of, and just last year we put sustainability right at the core of our business strategy.
We need to act now
I just feel like it’s the exact right time to change things. We’re in a moment where people are starting to properly wake up to what needs to happen. And we’ve got the power to influence and change it.
Renewables is one of the most important industries moving forward and these next 10 years are, probably the most important human history. What we do now is going to determine the future of our planet.
Renewables and Sustainability
Kate points out that the renewable industry isn’t intrinsically sustainable just because it produces renewable energy.
There’s a temptation to think renewables equals green, equals good, equals sustainable. It’s a lot more complex than that.
There’s the organisation’s operational carbon emissions and supply chain emissions. There’s the impact of changing weather on the organisation and the need for climate adaptation. And there are significant social aspects:
If we think about our social impacts, what are we doing around a fair and just transition? How are we working with communities and ensuring good work practices?
The big challenge is:
How do we transition to net zero and build up the renewables we need in away that respects our planetary boundaries and the natural world?
Breaking the link between the growth of renewables and resource use
A significant issue is the resources used to manufacture turbines:
If we think about turbines and embodied carbon within steel and concrete, which make up a large proportion of our turbines, then how are we going to decarbonize them over time, which will be absolutely critical?
Especially as the renewables industry needs to grow to provide most of the world’s energy:
But more growth equals more consumption. We have one planet with finite resources. That’s not going to work.
When we’re thinking about our sustainability strategy, what we want to achieve is essentially breaking that bond between the growth of our business, the growth of renewables with resource use.
Creating a circular economy for the wind industry
So we need to think differently, we need to move away from a linear model of the economy, towards one that is genuinely circular.
Kate explains that SSE Renewables has 1,068 turbines in operation and many more will be coming on stream. To start the move towards circularity SSE Renewables worked with Renewable Parts Ltd, a Scottish company offering circular solutions for component parts.
We signed an agreement with Renewable Parts and Strathclyde University. It was a stake in the ground to say, we’re serious about this, this is what we’re going to focus on right now.
The agreement covered three areas:
We would work systematically to increase circularity for many component parts.
When a turbine gets to the end of its life, build sustainability into the decision making process for what happens, whether that’s repowering or decommissioning or life extension.
The size of the prize here is massive. If we start to build a supply chain that can offer the circular solutions that we want to see within our wind farms, we can grow a whole new sector that can offer something new and different, and not just to the UK and Scotland, but to other countries too.
Collaboration for sustainability: What works?
Join other sustainability leaders to discuss the factors behind effective collaboration, and how to apply them in your work.
12:30 – 13:30, Wed 6th Mar, 2024. Read more and register on our events page…
Solving practical problems
One of the initial drivers for the project was a supply chain issue with the “yaw gears” which enable turbines to turn into or out of the wind depending on energy demand and wind speeds.
There are usually eight gears in a turbine and if one breaks you can’t operate the turbine. A few years ago there was a shortage of yaw gears – with a three year wait time.
That’s a significant loss in revenue. You’re not generating renewable power, which means it needs to be supplemented by a different type of electricity onto the grid.
SSE Renewables started working with Renewable Parts who supply high quality, tested, refurbished yaw gears.
We found we could buy our yaw gears from Lochgilphead, a small town, Scotland, instead of getting them shipped over brand new from Bologna.
There are range of benefits:
- the refurbished version was cheaper
- with a lead time of a month
- broken yaw gears are refurbished reducing waste and saving carbon and resources
Renewable Parts, a wonderful local company that employs local apprentices and graduates and people from the local area.
The collaboration has brought further benefits:
We’ve got this wonderful engineer within our asset management team who has worked with Renewable Parts so that the yaw gears stop breaking so often in the first place. And it’s that kind of genuine collaborative relationship that you don’t get every day.
Establishing the Coalition for Wind Industry Circularity
Working together these partners have established the Coalition for Wind Industry Circularity (CWIC) to set up a whole new industry for the UK.
So what we’re looking to do is to bring together our direct competitors, big renewables developers and the OEMs, your big turbine suppliers like Vistas, GE Renewables, Siemens…
But also thinking about smaller companies that want to get into this space but aren’t sure how to, or what they’re offering would be.
And then also getting trade bodies like Scottish Renewables and academics involved; all these different perspectives to come together and say, we’re all trying to achieve the same thing, so let’s actually do it together.
CWIC was launched in March 2023 and, at the time of recording in July, over 40 companies had joined.
The benefits of collaborative approaches
It’s pretty rare that the private sector and academia comes together to build something brand new because they want to be sustainable and they think there’s economic, environmental, and social value from doing so.
But it’s happening, right?!
One of the things that frustrates me the most is this idea that there’s some competitive advantage in doing things separately, when actually, if we all work together, we can grow the pie.
There’s plenty to go round, but we need to actually work together.
And until that happens and we start focusing on the right things, then we’re just wasting time that we don’t have.
CWIC is still early stages. It represents a bit of a shift in mentality and the creation of something that, if we manage to pull it off, is here to stay and, and here to contribute to genuinely good jobs, decarbonization, reduce waste, all these good things together.
The importance of hearts and minds
I knew already knew quite a bit about CWIC before this conversation, because Morag and I had designed and facilitated the first gathering of the coalition in June. This was an opportunity for new and potential members to define how the CWIC will operate and agree on its priority action areas. (You can read more about that here).
It was really clear, hearing from the people involved, that they really believed this was important. Obviously things need to stack up financially, but for many people it seemed like the question wasn’t “is this a good idea?” but rather, “how do we make this work?”
It’s this kind of brilliant! We’re delivering these dual outcomes of something that is genuinely the right thing to do for all these different reasons, but also can offer a commercial benefit to companies as well. How can you say no to that?
What makes CWIC work?
It’s relatively easy to come up with circular economy ideas in theory. I asked Kate what helped turned this project from an idea into reality.
Probably it’s that this was a genuine gap. There is a definite gap in the market for a solution.
Despite people saying we’ve missed the opportunity for manufacturing turbines in the UK,
If you rethink things for a second, there’s still massive opportunities. Our industry is still in its infancy and these assets are going to be around for a very long time. So let’s think about that supply chain that can exist and could be built for that operational period.
The right partners:
I t feels like we’ve got the right partners involved. We’ve got a group of individuals and organizations and the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland has been wonderful as well.
You’ve got different perspectives, you’ve got University of Strathclyde giving access to research findings.
You’ve got a company like Renewable Parts that is growing at some rate because they can see the demand there.
And then you’ve got a company like SSE Renewables, it’s a large business that’s calling for this product, which doesn’t quite exist yet in the supply chain.
Sometime you just need to start:
So I think across those different groups, you could see that there was that everyone wanted, they just didn’t know how to do it. We just got on and started to do it. We don’t know exactly how we’re going to do it!
Five key points for successful collaboration projects
I thought it will be helpful to pull out some of the threads that most struck me about how Kate and her collaborators across of the industry are going about developing a circular economy for the sector.
An issue people care about
There’s a real recognition that reducing resource use is the right thing to do. Not just from Kate, but also from people at the workshop, there was real sense that this is a genuinely important initiative that people really care about – there’s a real emotional engagement
A robust business case
But like Bob Gordon said in the last episode, by itself, emotion isn’t enough, you need a robust business case, and here there was a really compelling business case due to supply chain issues directly affecting revenue.
Commitment and vision
People often say we don’t need any emotional buy in, the business case by itself is enough. That’s true up to a point, but if Kate and others behind CWIC hadn’t been emotionally committed, I strongly suspect that the project wouldn’t have gone beyond remanufacturing the yaw gears.
As it is, their commitment and vision is building on this technical fix to create a collaboration that could radically reduce resource use and have a range of social and economic benefits.
Shared purpose and trust
Collaboration is at the heart of this initiative, and will be essential to its success. And for collaboration to work, there needs to be a real sense of shared purpose and a high level of trust.
This was very much in our minds when Morag and I were creating the workshop for CWIC. We gave a lot of thought to hosting the event in ways that helped people who hadn’t been involved in the initial discussions, not just to see the business benefits, but to also feel this was something they really wanted to be part of.
Practical action and quick results
And finally, this initiative really shows the importance of having tangible, practical things that you can get working on together right away, and that deliver real results quickly – in this case the focus on remanufacturing and extending the life of yaw gears.