Wales to play host to Gigafactory and marine energy hub

The green light has been given to a new £60m marine energy project in Pembrokeshire, in the same week that battery giant Britishvolt has unveiled plans to build a new Gigafactory in Wales.

The Milford Haven Waterway (pictured) will play host to the new marine venture

The Milford Haven Waterway (pictured) will play host to the new marine venture

A £60 million marine energy project that will help tackle climate change while reviving Pembrokeshire’s economy in the wake of Covid-19 has been given the green light.

The marine energy project, approved by both the central UK Government and the Welsh Government this week, will see a 90 sq km testbed for emerging devices created within the Milford Haven Waterway.

The facility will be overlooked by a Marine Energy Engineering Centre of Excellence – a research and development and education centre delivered by the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult.

It is hoped that these two facilities will create more than 1,800 jobs for the region over the next 15 years and contribute more than £73m to the economy on an annual basis within the same timeframe. Redevelopment of land on the dock in line with the project has also been approved.

Funding for the venture is being contributed by Pembrokeshire County Council, the UK Government and the Welsh Government, along with a string of private-sector investors and businesses, including the Port of Milford Haven, as part of a broader £1.3bn City Deal for Swansea Bay. The organisers of the new marine project are seeking a £28m share of this pot, which they claim could help attract a further £32m of investment from private and public sector bodies.

Pembrokeshire Council leader Cllr David Simpson said the project, which builds on an existing pilot test area, will transform the region “into a global example of best practice for zero-carbon, marine energy innovation” while helping communities recover from the economic impacts of Covid-19.

On the latter, Wales is home to more than 250,000 people working in industries most affected by the pandemic, such as tourism and hospitality. On the former, the nation is targeting a 95% emissions cut by 2050, against a 1990 baseline, in line with the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) recommendations on net-zero for the UK as a whole.

The IEA believes that marine energy technologies could generate as much as 80,000 terawatt-hours of electricity per year on a global basis by 2030. However, this prediction is based on technologies maturing and investment being made at a far more rapid rate.

Charging ahead

Another project which would stimulate the Welsh economy while contributing to the net-zero transition is a 30 GWh Gigafactory, proposed by manufacturer Britishvolt.

The firm this week confirmed that it has shortlisted two potential sites for the facility, both located in Wales. Its preferred plot is in Bro Tathan, South Wales. Britishvolt has said it will require 80 hectares of land for the facility, given that it wishes to co-locate it with a new solar farm.

If £1.2bn financing is secured and planning permission granted in the expected timeframe, the first phase of the facility is expected to become fully operational in late 2023. Britishvolt estimates that this would create 3,500 jobs for local residents, and a further 10,000 to 15,000 roles in the wider supply chain.

Batteries produced at the Gigafactory will range from small devices for electric cars, to larger arrays for energy storage by businesses.

The announcement from Britishvolt comes amid a backdrop of reports that Tesla is evaluating a site 635-acre site in Somerset for its next Gigafactory. Tesla and the Department for International Trade (DIT) have remained quiet on the specifics of the plan.

It is worth noting that, despite their contribution to the electrification of hard-to-abate sectors such as energy and transport, Gigafactories are not without their controversies. The German Government last year paused work on Tesla’s first European Gigafactory, giving the firm time to find an alternative to the clearing of 90 hectares of forest.  With new, less intrusive plans submitted, the facility is now due to open in late 2021.

Sarah George



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