Plant & Works Engineering
Low-carbon manufacturing fastest growing sector in West Midlands
Published:  05 July, 2021

Low-carbon manufacturing and goods are now the West Midlands’ fastest growing sector, latest research has shown, boosting the region’s ambition to lead a new, green industrial revolution.

Figures show that the region’s low-carbon industries grew by more than 7% in 2020 despite a 9% downturn in the wider West Midlands economy as a result of the Covid pandemic.

The sector now employs close to 100,000 people across the region, which also has a far greater concentration of workers in certain low-carbon industries than many other parts of the UK.

Coventry and Warwickshire alone employs 28 times the UK average in electricity transmission jobs, the Black Country five times the average in securing recycled materials, and Birmingham and Solihull five times the average in building management systems and activities.

This new research, commissioned by the West Midlands Growth Company (WMGC), found one of the reasons the West Midlands is proving so successful in developing its low-carbon industries is because many of the region’s traditional sectors, such as manufacturing, automotive and energy supply, are looking to reduce carbon in response to the climate emergency.

It comes as the region gears up for a pre-COP26 conference on July 13, which is being co-hosted by UK100 and the WMCA. The International Net Zero Local Leadership Conference is aimed at strengthening the powers of regions to deliver net zero.

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “The West Midlands is already the manufacturing heartland of the UK and is world-leading in the automotive and energy storage industries. Now we’re ready to seize the initiative and become the home of the Green Industrial Revolution.

“This research suggests that’s exactly what we’re doing, and shows that by reducing carbon across the region we’re also creating significant economic opportunities for businesses to thrive, invest, and create new jobs for local workers. Given the jobs we’ve lost to the pandemic, this is critical.

“Our regional ambition is to be net zero by 2041, and that means growing our low-carbon sectors even faster and creating even more jobs and opportunities for local businesses. But in order for our green sectors to flourish we need to create the right environment, which is why the Net Zero Conference in the West Midlands on 13th July is so important. We need to come together as local authority partners, alongside central government, to set out the policies that will generate even more opportunities for innovation, commercialisation and new jobs.”

The research released by the West Midlands Growth Company also pointed to the role of the WMCA in setting out a clear ambition and roadmap to achieving net carbon zero by 2041, helping to create business opportunities for those green industries. The WMCA’s own research shows that a further 21,000 new jobs could be created over the next five years and 92,000 more by 2041, mostly in new carbon-cutting green industries and technologies.

Henrietta Brealey, CEO at Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, said: “It’s great to see rapid growth in the low-carbon technology sector. Local businesses and industry are grasping the opportunity that the net zero transition can bring. By utilising wherewithal from the region’s industrial past, these businesses are positioning the West Midlands as the home of the new, green industrial revolution.

“The region is home to world-leading innovation and manufacturing capability and key sectoral strengths. This makes it well-placed to meet the challenges that come with the net zero transition and build on its competitive edge to increase economic growth.

“In the run-up to COP26, the Greater Birmingham and Coventry and Warwickshire Chambers of Commerce have partnered to support businesses on their decarbonisation journeys, through ‘The Sustainable Business Series: Net Zero’ campaign and raise awareness of the opportunities available. As part of this, we will be gathering further insight into the policy direction and support needed for businesses on this agenda and working to influence Government thinking accordingly.”

The WMGC research found particular strengths in a number of key areas:

• Future Mobility – as the UK’s automotive manufacturing capital, a rapid transition to electric will be critical alongside an acceleration of the region’s cutting-edge research and development into new forms of low-carbon transport propulsion.

• Energy Systems & Built Environment – the region is already the UK’s leading location for the development of large-scale energy innovation zones. These take a whole system approach to energy and the environment – from generation to consumption and management.

• Energy Generation, Distribution & Storage - through its manufacturing expertise, the region has become a key player in the supply chains for wind, solar PV and biomass renewable energy, employing 37,000 people locally. Even more significant is its world-leading battery storage technology and range of energy distribution providers and their supply chain companies.

• Resource Management – a focus on making best use of the materials and resources available, reducing waste through remanufacturing and recycling. Not only local businesses, but also the region’s university research centres, are developing ground-breaking solutions that maximise every last piece of material.

• Low-Carbon Solutions - with extensive academic, research and consultancy expertise, the West Midlands has been identified as being ideally placed to provide private businesses with the solutions and collaboration opportunities they need to help reduce carbon and move to net zero.

Cllr Ian Courts, the WMCA portfolio lead for environment and energy and Leader of Solihull Council, said: “This latest research from the WMGC is incredibly positive and confirms that our region is ideally placed to lead in the drive towards net zero. Our low carbon and environmental goods sector is bucking the trend elsewhere in the economy and spearheading the region’s post-Covid economic fight back.

"Our region has a proud history of industrial ingenuity and innovation and it’s only fitting now that we find ourselves once again at the forefront of a new green industrial revolution.

“We have the industry and skills to lead the way towards a greener and more prosperous future, and help take us towards our net zero target of 2041. Our task now is to make sure we remain at the cutting edge of this exciting sector and continue to capitalise on the huge economic opportunities associated with decarbonisation.”