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April 2010 – Prospects from energy

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The UK economy is clearly still struggling, but the debate is now centred on how strong the recovery is likely to be. At least recovery seems to have started, and longer term the fundamentals look more favourable for steel construction than a year ago. But whatever the level of total demand for construction in the next decade or so, it looks like there will be changes in its composition. The spread of types of project featured in this issue of NSC suggests something of the wide diversity of future sources of demand. Encouragingly, steel construction has a central role to play in all of them.

This month’s NSC has articles on leisure centres achieving the highest sustainability commendations. A redevelopment project in London shows steel construction taking place around a busy commuter station without affecting normal operations. Another transport project of national significance is improving access within Gatwick Airport. Regeneration of Woolwich town centre has a multi storey steel-framed civic centre at its heart. The reputation of the UK steel construction industry will be enhanced by the latest Antony Gormley masterpiece which is currently being built in  Scotland. All of these sources of work have growth potential.

There might be less work in some sectors in future, in education for example, but other market sectors will strengthen. A prime example of a growing market where steel will make a crucial contribution is power generation, as was heard at a recent BCSA seminar (see News). The story of lack of investment in energy is a familiar enough one for other types of infrastructure, but decisions have been made to build ten nuclear power stations in the UK over the next 15 years.

Some 80% of the cost of a nuclear power station goes on traditional construction activities rather than nuclear plant. A typical nuclear power station will need some 7,000t of steel for its turbine hall alone.

There is also a growing market for other energy related projects such as the power station near Retford, which can also be read about in this issue (p24). The future demand from energy will be huge and depends crucially on steel. There is a potential £100,000 million investment in renewable energy, much of it to be invested in offshore energy which could mean demand for some six million tonnes of steel over the next ten years.

Add on energy from waste plants, structures to house activities like anaerobic digestion plants and wave and tidal technologies and there is a huge demand coming which will in turn place demands on steel construction materials and skills.

Nick Barrett

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