02 Apr 12 News England

Business meets Academia at Hull University

Last week it was my honour to speak at a conference where business meets the academic staff at Hull University.  The speech is available here on the Mainstream website and as usual is a collaborative effort between Brendan Halligan and myself.  Hull University proclaims on its website that it is “open for business” and that it wishes to serve the community of its locality in Yorkshire.

The Vice Chancellor Pistorius opened the meeting by announcing that within two weeks he would be opening a new school of Chemical Engineering.  This was very welcome news to this chemical engineer, and I wish Professor Pistorius the very best in his new venture.

There was a healthy exchange of views between the business types and the academics as well as between the business people themselves.

There were the representatives of the current order who spoke of building the future on the fossil fuel and nuclear industries.  One pernicious theme advanced was that the US was going to do shale gas anyway, and that there was enough shale gas for 200 years.  So the EU was going to combat global warming on its own.

This is a subtle argument.

If it is believed it would sap our energy here in Britain and in Europe, because it more or less condemns us to failure from the off.  sample_NewEnW080

I propose to deal with shale gas in a forthcoming blog.

Let me say here: the right idea and the conviction to express it and the courage to legislate for it are more powerful than the apologists for the current order no matter how powerful they are.  Have a look at the endeavours of the EU, in the person of Connie Hedegaard, to compel all airlines using our airports to pay fines for the CO2 they produce.  Despite objections from every airline, both European and particularly American and the combined objections of the US and Chinese governments, Europe will win.

So what should the University of Hull educate its students in for the future?  We pointed out that the world is on a once off transition to sustainability.  We showed how the past ten generations of our species had used fossil fuels and that was not going to be an option for us in the future.  In fact by 2050 no more fossil fuels would be used in making electricity.  This will be a startling transformation.

We don’t have a good proportion of the skills needed to accomplish this transformation.  That is where the University of Hull comes in, particularly Hull.    The city of Hull and the vicinity of the Humber will be the epicentre of the offshore wind industry.  The British Government is set to close coal plant and is committed to building 18,000 megawatts of wind offshore by 2020.

The die has been cast and the playing field laid out.   The North Sea and the great wind zones of Hornsea and Dogger are adjacent to the Humber and Hull.  It is theirs to lose.  Because of the very newness of offshore wind, the University of Hull has an opportunity to play a defining role in the creation of the skills needed to build this new industry.  If it works carefully with the advanced businesses they will tell Vice Chancellor Pistorius what skills are needed for the offshore wind future.  It can educate the professional engineering leaders to pilot Yorkshire way forward.

An interesting question was asked towards the end of the conference and it was:  “what is the one thing that we need to do to market our region?”.  I suggested that the university and its businesses should become internationally known for their innovative approach to business and education.  Innovation is the key.   This part of Yorkshire needs to become the Silicon Valley of the renewable industry.