News - South West

Defence firms hit by cuts urged to expand into green energy

Companies related to the defence sector in the South West are being urged to expand into the green energy sector following the government’s decision to cut the Ministry of Defence’s budget by 8 per cent over the next four years.

“This is a perfect opportunity for diversification and renewable energy presents a massive new market,” said Barry Warburton, the CEO of the West of England Aerospace Forum (WEAF) who spoke to Insider.

The defence sector has long been associated with the South West, and its importance to the region is substantial. The Ministry of Defence base in Abbey Wood in North Bristol, for example, is the largest MoD site in the UK employing 7,000 staff.

But Warburton said that the projected decline in the number of Ministry of Defence contracts need not necessarily be a cause for pessimism for the industry.

The coalition government wants 15 per cent of the country’s energy to be generated from sustainable sources by 2020. At the moment renewables contribute just 3 per cent. The sector is expected to expand enormously in the next few years.

“The government is talking about putting 200 turbines in the Severn Estuary alone,” Warburton said.

He argued that the technologies that defence and aerospace companies specialise in are not dissimilar from the niche technologies required to manufacture wind, solar, and wave systems.

“A turbine blade is not dissimilar to a helicopter blade. It’s electrical and mechanical engineering,” Warburton said.

“What is an aircraft made of? What are components of a vehicle made of? When you think about it the technology in the defence industry is very value added and is very flexible.

“The cuts in defence spending are a wake-up call for those companies that focus solely in defence and want to find other markets. If you’ve got all your eggs in one basket and you drop the basket you are in trouble.”

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