In Conversation With..

Issue 70

MIKE JAMES North Sea Link

Mike James is the UK Converter site manager for the North Sea Link interconnector project, a joint venture between National Grid and Statnett, which will see the exchange of clean renewable energy between two sites in Cambois, Blyth and Kvilldal in Norway. Once complete, it will be the longest subsea interconnector in the world, presenting a huge step forward in both countries’ quest to remove carbon emissions by 2050. What is the North Sea Link interconnector project and how does it work? Stretching 720km, the North Sea Link will be the longest subsea interconnector in the world when fully operational. It will draw hydroelectric power from Norway into the UK and also provide Norway with wind power generated from the various wind power sites around the country. Why do we need this? The North Sea Link is playing a significant role in the UK’s efforts to meet net zero targets by 2050. Once operational, it will have the capacity to provide clean power to 1.4 million homes – this is equivalent to three cities the size of Newcastle on a cold day. This is a valuable contribution by National Grid both in terms of the scale of the project and the investment being made. It is a monumental task to deliver but we are very much part of a new chapter in the country’s power supply; providing sustainable renewable energy. Power brought into the UK via the North Sea Link (and Northumberland) will be green energy which is fantastic for the consumer, the UK as a whole and of course, the North East. What are the benefits to the North East as a region? This is a phenomenal project and certainly puts us on the map in the transition towards renewable energy. Furthermore, having once been a very heavy mining and industrial area, South East Northumberland is itself seeing huge change and rapidly becoming a hub for world-class innovation and renewable energy generation – the world’s longest interconnector will be quite literally on our doorstep. This will of course generate many more positive opportunities for the nearby communities including Cambois, East Sleekburn, Bedlington and Blyth, hopefully attracting greater investment which in turn will create more jobs. It was always important for us to recruit people from the immediate area too wherever possible, and we’ll now have eight local staff as part of a core team when the project is fully operational. What does your role entail? As site manager, I ensure that the project is running to plan, that it is on schedule and that strict health and safety requirements are met. I manage a group of skilled engineers and oversee multiple contractors and sub-contractors on a daily basis. I also liaise with the community, keeping them well informed of progress, as well as working closely with the team at National Grid to engage with local schools and the parish council to promote engineering. How did you get into the industry? I started off in the RAF and joined National Grid in 2003 on a temporary basis. I’ve had some great opportunities since then as the job has delivered several career paths, allowing me to develop my skills further. I’ve lived in Cramlington most of my life – this opportunity opened up six years ago. I showed an interest to work on the project and luckily enough it fell into place. What’s next for you after this project? I’ll be transitioning across to the ops manager’s role whereby ultimately, I’ll be responsible for the site once in full swing. Myself and a core team of engineers will manage maintenance and ensure that the UK side of the project operates smoothly without any hiccups. The project is progressing extremely well and on track. We’re currently in the commissioning phase so we’re testing all the high voltage equipment, but by the end of this year, we should be ready to go. What part of this project has made you most proud? This is by far the best project (and the best location) that I’ve been part of, not only because it’s on my doorstep but also for the people I work with. We’ve engaged with the local community from the start and many have taken a keen interest in the various programmes we’ve delivered such as school reading partnerships, road safety days, the donation of laptops and iPads to Cambois Primary School and an onsite Energy Education Centre. The latter is an interactive learning resource to promote STEM subjects to the area’s younger generations. School pupils can come (when guidelines allow) and see the work that is being carried out in Cambois, as well as learn more about renewable energy, climate change and STEM careers. We created various downloadable materials for pupils during lockdown that are still available and we’re also due to host several career talks. We’re therefore very keen to work closely with teachers on a local level and create real interest amongst pupils for renewable energy and the interconnector project. This way we can encourage, enthuse and support the next generation of world-class engineers right here in the North East.

Sign-up to our newsletter

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.