Port of Cromarty Firth is Scotlands Leading Port in the drive towards a clean energy future

The Cromarty Firth has for decades provided the perfect base for companies to launch their operations – from oil and gas to cruise, and now renewables. With Scotland on the cusp of a clean energy revolution, there is nowhere in the country better placed to take advantage of this seismic shift in energy generation. 

Nestled next to its deep, sheltered waters is the Port of Cromarty Firth, named 

Business of the Year and Coastal Powerhouse at the most recent Maritime UK Awards, a key barometer of success in the UK’s £46.1 billion industry.

Both awards were recognition by their maritime peers for the hard work and dedication of the Trust Port’s management in positioning the Port as a prime facility in Scotland to facilitate this renewable energy transformation.

Over the past seven years, Port of Cromarty Firth has invested more than £50 million in its infrastructure, specifically targeted at the growing opportunities in offshore renewables. This infrastructure expansion was recently named ‘Quay West’ by HRH The Princess Royal in an official visit to the Port, where she toured its facilities and the Cromarty Firth on the Port’s pilot boat, Dalmore. 

These facilities include significant over 110,000sqm of open laydown space, deep-water berths and sheltered anchorages, suitable for accommodating the largest offshore wind components, such as turbine blades, tower sections and foundations, as well as the biggest offshore support and cruise vessels.

Further investments are also set to continue as the Cromarty Firth establishes itself as a strategic national renewable energy hub – for which the Port is uniquely positioned. Incorporating nearby facilities, this renewable energy hub would offer first-class infrastructure, significant land availability and world-leading supply chain expertise.

Added to this is the Cromarty Firth’s proven track record to service future renewable developments, having supported more offshore wind projects than any other Scottish location. It is also perfectly located for 14 of the 15 sites identified for future offshore wind and floating offshore wind projects in Scotland, predicted to be worth £26 billion to the national economy. 

These sites are included in the ScotWind leasing round – seen by the Scottish Government as pivotal in meeting the country’s net-zero targets and growing the domestic offshore renewables sector – which awards leases for future offshore wind developments. 

As the shift to clean energy accelerates, the Port has stepped up its work. It has pinpointed that not only is onshore, offshore and floating offshore wind set to lead the shift towards the country’s decarbonisation but that another key solution is needed to create a low carbon economy, based around the production of hydrogen from renewable energy, a carbon-free fuel. 

The Port is involved in the North of Scotland Hydrogen Programme, comprising a number of developments, the main one being the construction of a large-scale onshore electrolysis facility.

A kick-starter ‘Distilleries Project’ is underway, a partnership involving the Port, energy firms ScottishPower and Pale Blue Dot Energy, plus drinks giants Glenmorangie, Whyte and Mackay and Diageo. Together, they are paving the way for a green hydrogen hub, powered by electricity from renewable sources, to provide distilleries in the region with hydrogen to assist in decarbonising their heating and processes. The Port, due to its excellent proximity to offshore wind and floating offshore wind production sites, would act as home to the facility.

This will be a game changer for industries looking to switch their infrastructure away from fossil fuels to green sources. However, to establish this infrastructure, it must be able to guaranteed supply. Recognising this requirement, the Port of Cromarty Firth has now also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with pioneering Norwegian firm Gen2 Energy AS, to create a commercial pathway to import green hydrogen from Norway into the UK energy market.

The partnership will provide a security of supply for industry, and will guarantee green hydrogen to those who want access to the clean energy by mid-2023, giving them the confidence to make concrete plans and investments to begin switching their infrastructure.

The predicted growth in offshore renewables has also led to exciting collaborative initiatives, putting the Port at the forefront of Opportunity Cromarty Firth (OCF), a dynamic partnership of private, public and academic organisations. The OCF partners include Global Energy Group, The Highland Council, Inverness Harbour Trust and the University of the Highlands and Islands, working together with a supply chain of world-class energy sector companies.

OCF’s ambition is for the Cromarty Firth to become a Scottish Government-approved ‘Green Port’ – a Scottish Freeport – bringing with it significant benefits, including tax incentives and customs reliefs. These unique operational, regulatory and customs rules make them attractive locations for inward investors. Achieving ‘Green Port’ status could help unlock a pipeline of well-paid, sustainable jobs and significant supply chain opportunities for the Highlands built primarily around a green economy.

One of OCF’s first moves was to set up the PowerHouse, a ‘global centre of excellence’ in the research and development of floating offshore wind and green hydrogen technologies. Renewable energy engineer Mina Hanna, was recently appointed manager of the centre, based at the North Highland College UHI’s Tern House facility in Alness. He is helping shape the future of the centre, whose services will include offering educational opportunities for students and school pupils, and providing skills development and retraining in renewables for people from other energy sectors.

Port Chief Executive Bob Buskie says the current work being undertaken by the Port, and its partners, shows just how dynamic their businesses have become to ensure the Cromarty Firth, the Highlands, and Scotland, can turn ambition into a green reality.

He says: “The project pipeline is vast and its importance to the Cromarty Firth, and to Scotland’s economy more broadly, cannot be underestimated. These developments will bring skilled jobs and high-wage opportunities to the Highlands on a level not seen since the oil boom of the 1970s.

“We have already developed a substantial track record in renewables and taken a leading position in the support of offshore wind projects in Scotland. This includes key contracts in the

Moray East and Beatrice Offshore Windfarms in the Outer Moray Firth and the Kincardine Floating Offshore Windfarm off Aberdeen. 

“That leading position is set to continue with the upcoming ScotWind developments, creating a pipeline of sustainable supply chain opportunities – which locally we have the expertise to deliver – that will support quality employment for generations.

“Achieving ‘Green Port’ status would be a game changer. It would help us to maximise the opportunities in offshore renewables, by encouraging the growth and development of companies around the Cromarty Firth. This would ensure that more work is completed in Scotland rather than being imported from overseas.

“Such is the size and scope of this renewables operation that we cannot act alone. For our industry to fully capitalise on the breadth of ambition in the renewables market, we need to collaborate, pool our resources, and ensure through partnerships that the infrastructure is created in Scotland to meet this overwhelming demand.”

Meanwhile, the Port is looking forward to supporting the cruise sector as it looks to bounce back following the crippling effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the first lockdown, the Port enjoyed its best-ever cruise season in 2019, where it welcomed 104 ships and more than 167,000 passengers, with some of the world’s largest cruise ships taking advantage of the Firth’s sheltered location and deep-water berths.

Even more importantly for the Highlands, the cruise market fed into the tourism sector at large, with many businesses and local attractions in the region reaping the benefits from cruise passenger visits. This activity has boosted the Highland economy by an estimated £18m.

Bob Buskie added: “The cruise sector has been a tremendous success story for the Highlands. It is extremely important to the region’s tourism industry and we are working hard with the appropriate authorities to make sure that cruise activity returns safely and securely.”

For the Port itself, it has already charted a course away from the rougher economic seas of 2020/21 towards the calmer waters of future prosperity.