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Blog: Neil Kermode reflects on hosting the future King

Duke and Duchess with Neil Kermode and Eileen Linklater from EMEC (Credit Colin Keldie)

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with EMEC’s Neil Kermode and Eileen Linklater (Credit Colin Keldie)

So when you get the call saying the future King is interested in coming to see your work what do you say? You can guess!

It was a huge privilege to host the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in May. The abiding impression they left was one of genuine interest in the work going on to build the future of the nation, particularly what we can do and are doing to tackle climate change.

This interest was right at the top of their agenda and so we sought to show it off in the all-too-brief hour we had.

As founders of the Earthshot Prize their Royal Highnesses’ have set out to unite people, incentivise change and turn the current pessimism surrounding environmental issues into optimism by highlighting the human ingenuity which will bring about change and inspire collective action. Values which are in abundance in Orkney.

We were fortunate that Orbital Marine Power’s O2 floating tidal turbine had recently arrived in the county ahead of installation at our tidal test site, and that the hydrogen fuel cell and storage trailers were available at Kirkwall harbour; and so began a frantic scurry to bring together a very brief tour and narrative around the visit.

Neil Kermode providing an overview of EMEC green hydrogen projects to the Duke and Duchess (Credit Colin Keldie)

Neil Kermode providing an overview of EMEC green hydrogen projects to the Duke and Duchess (Credit Colin Keldie)

Their Royal Highnesses’ interest in itself is refreshing and hopefully we gave a glancing insight into the important steps being made to decarbonise our future through the demonstration of applied R&D.

We decided to focus on three key elements of our story:

  • New renewable ways of making electricity by harnessing the power of the tides,
  • The use of hydrogen we have been forced to make due to grid inadequacies and, finally,
  • The people who have made the ‘just transition’ to post-fossil fuel jobs.

Luckily the recent arrival of the Orbital O2 turbine in Orkney gave us the perfect visual aid for the first part. The multimillion pound turbine is being readied for deployment on our tidal site at the Fall of Warness. Andrew Scott (Orbital CEO) and his team jumped at the chance to show off their new toy.

Returning to shore, the tour was briefly de-railed by an impromptu Royal walkabout triggered by some cute kids from Glaitness Primary School who caught our guest’s attention.

Then it was over to EMEC to show off some of our hydrogen kit in the form of the 75 kW fuel cell and one of the hydrogen transport trailers.

Most importantly for me, however, was the opportunity to introduce four members of staff at EMEC who epitomise the just transition. Between Eileen, John, Dave and Jerry we have four people who have each made life choices that now mean they have jobs that are focussed on a world beyond fossil fuels. They are using their accumulated legal, gas safety, instrumentation and marine engineering skills in ways that they never considered when they started their careers.

In the visit we also squeezed in a trip in one of the ReFLEX Orkney project’s electric vehicle demonstrators (naturally we chose the Tesla for this particular job) and provided insight into the rest of Orkney’s energy economy with the opportunity to see the Flotta Oil Terminal and Scapa Flow from their helicopter, as well as a flyover of EMEC’s tidal test site where Magallanes’ ATIR tidal turbine is already deployed. We also highlighted the Mocean Energy wave converter presently sitting patiently at Hatston Pier awaiting deployment, though their timetable prevented an up-close visit.

So as you can imagine there was a lot of organisation to pull this off and Orkney plc pulled together to make this happen.

Once our visitors had left we were reflecting on what they had just seen. World leading tidal technology development, hydrogen transport storage and use, decarbonised transport and a passion for the just transition to decarbonised jobs.

And of course this is not the only visit we have done or will be doing. Just before lockdown we managed to show the then Shipping Minister, Nusrat Ghani, the plethora of work going on to decarbonise our shipping and last summer we showed the Prime Minister Orkney’s aspirations for offshore wind and the local supply chain. These two high profile guests represent the tip of the iceberg in terms of who we talk to in a year.

We reach out to so many others through the media and in the last few months we have had Sky News, the BBC, Al-Jazeera, numerous print media and freelance companies doing a range of projects that feature EMEC and Orkney’s pioneering work in one form or another. I can also recall showing a huge range of people around including the past Governor of the Bank of England, bankers, oil executives, civil servants, politicians of every hue, students, policy makers, artists… you name it.

Whilst they are interested in the technology, I am often left with the abiding impressions that they are relieved to see that someone is actually working on the climate. We find ourselves as a beacon of determined effort to make a positive difference; and we find that interest is increasing.

We have achieved some profile for this work and the fact that got to the attention of the Duke and Duchess is testament to that. However, through the coverage of their activities we will have reached others that we cannot normally reach (certainly don’t think we’ve featured in Hello! magazine before), and this wider audience will realise that ‘marine energy’ is actually a ‘thing’. Among this wider audience there will be those who will take more of an interest and realise that this nascent industry is something that they should take notice of; something that should be considered for investment; something their daughters and sons might one day get a job in.

It was clear from the Duke and Duchess’ comments that they are passionate about giving people hope about the issues around climate change. Reframing the challenges into opportunities provides some of that hope. Seeing that there are real people doing real 21st century jobs that are putting fossil fuels into the history books is part of that message of hope.

Because we are living with these technologies we probably see things differently. We want others to realise that the UK need not face costs of decarbonising; it is that there are investment opportunities to decarbonise. We need them to see that old (dirty) fossil-based jobs are not to be lost in the North Sea, it is that jobs in the North Sea are to change and become sustainable by working on marine energy and offshore wind. It is not that we have to reluctantly change our gas boilers in our houses, it is that we can build new industries making better heating systems that will not pollute our planet and damage our air quality.

So as the royal cavalcade swept away from Kirkwall Harbour we went back the day job and in the following days we saw:

  • Orbital deploy the O2 at the Fall of Warness, joining Magallanes on site;
  • the long-awaited return of our electrolyser from ITM following refurbishment;
  • the roof on the building to accommodate the 1.8 MW Invinity flow battery completed;
  • Mocean’s new wave energy device readied for towing to Scapa Flow; and
  • the hydrogen powered combined heat and power unit delivered to Kirkwall airport.

Each of these elements is effectively another click on the ratchet of decarbonisation. That is what we do, and that is what we will keep doing;

… but a bit more help would be really gratefully received!

So, was it worth all the preparation for the brief visit?

I firmly believe it was and I am extremely grateful for their Royal Highnesses’ interest in what we are doing. We know we are changing the world for the better and their interest helps us stand up just that bit straighter and redouble our efforts; when we properly get the message out there then there really is nothing to stop us except our imagination and vision.

And vision is something we do share with the Duke and Duchess – where the Earthshot prize takes inspiration from President John F. Kennedy’s Moonshot which united millions of people around a goal to put humans on the moon and catalysed the development of new technology in the 1960s, EMEC also takes inspiration from President Kennedy’s legacy:

JFK quote

Neil Kermode (Credit Colin Keldie) 150





Neil Kermode
Managing Director








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