Multi-billion dollar opportunities for Plymouth and the South West


In a keynote speech to the UK South West’s business leaders, the University of Plymouth’s Vice-Chancellor has outlined the enormous potential for the region in harnessing the power of the oceans – including billions of dollars in global investment.

Speaking at the South West Business Council’s annual dinner, sponsored by the University, last night (Thursday 29 June) Professor Judith Petts CBE (pictured) pledged to continue working hard to leverage the University’s global excellence in marine renewable energy and more, for the wider benefit of the region.

Focusing on energy as an area where the South West can generate massive investment and growth – notably through the unique opportunity presented by the development of floating offshore wind (FLOW) turbines in the Celtic Sea – Prof. Petts said: “Our collective ethos is to use our knowledge for action, solving global challenges, through working in partnership with business and others.

“It is appropriate here in Britain’s Ocean City to focus on one of these global challenges where the University’s research is genuinely world leading – sustainable exploitation of our oceans which has the potential to create thousands of high value jobs in our region.
“In a world where a predicted population of 9 billion will place unsustainable demands on the terrestrial environment, the oceans will become more and more important.”

The University of Plymouth is at the forefront of offshore renewable energy (ORE) education, research and innovation. Its state-of-the-art facilities are unrivalled across the ORE sector; the national hub for ORE research and innovation is at the University and it is home to the UK Floating Offshore Wind Turbine Test Facility.

The Vice-Chancellor cited the work of the University’s Professor Deborah Greaves OBE (who also attended the dinner) in leading the Supergen ORE Hub, a £9 million (to date) investment that brings together universities and industry from across the UK to accelerate the development of offshore renewable technologies.

From the University’s investment in a wave tank, 12 years ago, further significant investment and many millions of external funding are supporting the growth of Floating Offshore Wind.

The tank is part of the University’s COAST Laboratory which provides physical model testing with combined waves, currents and wind, offered at scales appropriate for device testing, array testing, environmental modelling and coastal engineering.

In 2022, the Maritime Simulation Laboratory opened; it runs maritime scenarios in real time and includes a new Dynamic Positioning simulator which is already being used by offshore wind developers to verify, test and optimise installation and maintenance projects.
And, as the world becomes increasingly dependent on maritime operations, the use of autonomous systems needs to increase, being more efficient, safer and better for the environment. Plymouth is recognised as a centre of excellence for marine autonomy and home to the National Centre for Coastal Autonomy (NCCA) which is led by the University, Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Marine Biological Association.

Autonomy requires cyber security and the University’s nationally unique £3.2 million Cyber-SHIP Lab brings together an endlessly configurable host of connected maritime systems to effectively become a physical twin of any ship’s bridge. It is a focus for training, policy development and commercial testing in the UK and globally.

Prof. Petts continued: “Plymouth has a unique blend of geographical, physical, business and intellectual assets that makes is the ideal place to test, trial and deploy autonomous systems, for which the predicted global market growth is $136 billion over the next 15 years.
“The value of securing even 10% of this market is clear. One estimate suggests that use of autonomous rather than traditional vessels can save 98% of the cost of deployment and maintenance of offshore renewable energy arrays.”

Smart Sound Plymouth is the UK’s premier proving area for designing, testing and developing cutting edge products and services for the marine sector. The University is currently deploying an underwater acoustic communications network that will link to the existing surface communications network, creating the only facility of its type in the UK.

The Vice-Chancellor cited the project as an example of the importance of partnership, both in the integration of technologies and in the development of the skills needed for these growing industries.

The University is working with City College Plymouth to develop a skills escalator and ensure that businesses and individuals can access the skills needed for the rapidly growing autonomy and marine technology markets.

Beyond addressing regional, national and global challenges, Prof. Petts concluded on a local note, citing the success of partnerships in securing the country’s first National Marine Park in Plymouth Sound.

She added: “How we value and work in harmony with the natural environment to deliver the greatest benefit for all is both a local and a global issue, with links to health, culture and the economy.

“We will continue to work hard to leverage our global excellence for the benefit of the region. We are pleased to be a member of, and support, the SWBC and look forward to continuing to work with it and others for the benefit of all.”