Photo: Loch Linnhe (Photo: Pixabay/Creative Commons CC0)

Sea loch in Scotland could turn multi-use offshore test site

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has developed a ‘concept for industry’, outlining vision for the new multi-use offshore test and demonstration campus in Loch Linnhe, in west Scotland.

The move follows the closure of the Underwater Centre in Fort William, which entered administration in October 2018.

The facility’s assets are now being marketed by administrators, with what is believed to be considerable interest from private sector firms, according to HIE.

The aim of the ‘concept for industry’ is to help the successful bidder establish a commercially viable business that serves the oil and gas, offshore renewable energy, aquaculture, defense and other subsea sectors.

A key feature of the concept is collaboration, with strong links between industry, academia and the public sector to accelerate and reduce the overall costs of essential testing and demonstration activities.

The UK’s underwater engineering supply chain has the ability to diversify across new sectoral opportunities, not least in renewables, HIE said. Of the 650 companies operating in the underwater industry, 445 already operate or have the capability to operate in offshore renewables, according to HIE.

Loch Linnhe is said to be able to offer salt water testing and relatively strong cross-sill currents, replicating offshore conditions in a sheltered environment, meaning it is likely to be more economically competitive as a location than alternative solutions.

Audrey MacIver, HIE’s director of energy and low carbon, said: “There is huge potential in Loch Linnhe, not only to serve the subsea sector, but enhance the contribution it makes to Scotland’s economy. We have been working alongside the Scottish Government, our agency partners and industry to make the most of that opportunity.

“A world class facility that meets the changing and future requirements of industries would build on the foundations and reputation the area has, thanks to the Underwater Centre. Not surprisingly, there appears to be a lot of interest in the center’s assets.”

The HIE development agency has been leading efforts to build on the area’s reputation for subsea training and testing services and the associated economic activities locally, delivering the concept with support from Scottish government, Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish Funding Council and industry bodies.

The concept has been disseminated among industry body members for the consideration of potential investors, according to HIE.

The underwater engineering market is expected to diversify and grow significantly with annual global spend forecast to increase from approximately £20 billion in 2017 to around £100 billion by 2035, HIE said.

The UK has around 40% of the global market share amounting to £8 billion in 2017. Maintaining this leadership position would equate to a £40 billion share – a five-fold increase – by 2035, HIE concluded.

The agency has also contracted accountancy firm, Grant Thornton, to provide advice on options for potential public sector support in delivering the proposed campus vision.