11 Jan 2023

The West Midlands: The UK’s energy modernisation hub  (Guest blog by West Midlands Growth Company)

Guest blog by Grace Kneafsey, low carbon senior business development manager at the West Midlands Growth Company.


A focus on modernising energy systems is key to driving clean growth and achieving the UK’s 2050 net zero target. Representing the geographic and strategic centre of the national energy market, with the country’s largest green workforce and with a strong track record of innovation, the West Midlands is well-positioned to lead on the digital transformation of the energy sector. 

The West Midlands is at the centre of the UK’s power distribution network, home to the headquarters of National Grid, Cadent and EON, as well as Xoserve – the UK’s largest central data service for the gas market – and Enzen, a leading energy consultancy. Part of the reason for this growing low carbon cluster is the region’s 94,000-strong green workforce – the largest in the UK – in addition to a strong pipeline of tech and manufacturing sector talent.  

However, the region’s geography poses a particular set of challenges when it comes to delivering decarbonisation. As an inland region, the West Midlands does not have easy access to large-scale, renewable energy generation, such as offshore wind. As such, it’s vital for the region to embrace ‘smart’ approaches to energy and implement innovative whole systems approaches, making use of multiple technologies.  
System-level data has a key role to play in improving integrated planning, informing decision-making and tracking outcomes, including economic benefits. This was recently highlighted by a recent Midlands Engine report, which calls for the accelerated digitisation of regional energy systems to reduce energy costs, create jobs and drive local economic growth. The West Midlands’ high carbon economy also makes it important to focus on repurposing roles and retraining people in green technologies to achieve the region’s net zero future. 

Seeking to make the West Midlands one of the most attractive places for companies to develop and innovate the next generation of clean energy technologies, Energy Capital – the smart energy partnership for the West Midlands – is dedicated to enabling smart energy solutions to thrive. An important part of this is the creation of a fully functioning regional ecosystem, involving close collaboration between the public and private sectors, regulated industries and academia. Tyseley Energy Park is an example of this ecosystem in action and is working closely with the University of Birmingham to develop new technologies, turning them into commercially viable energy systems. The region is also home to the Energy Systems Catapult, which focuses on supporting the energy system to decarbonise at the lowest cost by adopting a whole systems view of the sector, identifying and addressing innovation priorities and market barriers. 

The region is also nurturing a new wave of exciting energy-tech businesses, with the potential to transform clean energy innovation. One of these is Australian smart energy and IoT solutions company, carbonTRACK. Since landing in Birmingham in 2019, carbonTRACK has been using its scalable energy intelligence system to help the region’s SME manufacturers survive the ongoing energy crisis, as well as supporting local authorities in achieving their long-term net zero goals. 

Modo Energy is also a strong believer in the importance of data transparency as part of the transition to a carbon neutral world. Modo’s unique data platform focuses on delivering actionable insights through simple, user-centric interfaces, enabling organisations in the energy sector to make the right decisions, quickly.  

The West Midlands’ bold pledge to become net zero by 2041 is another reason why the region is poised to lead the way when it comes to the modernisation of the UK’s energy systems. However, Energy Capital has emphasised the importance of the region having more devolved powers to facilitate the smart energy transition and push closer to net zero. In particular, they discuss the need to designate Energy Innovation Zones and for the WMCA to take on a role with regards to price control.  

It's clear that if the UK is to make a successful transition to low carbon energy, the rapid modernisation of energy systems will be crucial. This effort will require a joined-up approach across all areas of the industry, from central and local government, to academia and manufacturers of all sizes. With its history of innovation, unrivalled green skills base and strong low carbon policies, the West Midlands is well-placed to lead the UK into a digitised energy future. 

West Midlands Growth Company  

The West Midlands Growth Company helps the region make its mark nationally and internationally. Its primary purpose is to attract investment, jobs, visitors and businesses to the West Midlands. The West Midlands Growth Company plays an important role in supporting the delivery of the West Midlands Combined Authority’s (WMCA) Strategic Economic Plan. Its focus is on the WMCA geography of Greater Birmingham and Solihull, Coventry and Warwickshire, and the Black Country.  

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