, , , , , , , , , ,

Artemis Intelligent Power are holding an open day. The hydraulic power R&D outfit is based down in Loanhead, with only a toe in Edinburgh. We have assembled in a large super laboratory and we are listening to an address from Niall Caldwell, the director of Artemis. The speech is almost political: Scotland has lately turned its back on “messy” manufacturing, in favour of banks and service industries, and the last “horrible few years” have taught us that we need a new approach. A nation in dire need of a future should look to companies such as Artemis to provide one.

Caldwell evidently takes immense satisfaction in Scottish energy – as if it was something which should make bright young men get up in the morning – but Scottish nationalism is being played down today. They had earlier wheeled out Westminster’s Business secretary, Vince Cable, to announce the launch of the £33m Efficient Offshore Wind Programme (EOWP), which will be delivered by a consortium of big noises in “renewables.” Since 2010, Artemis has been an autonomous subsidiary of Mitsubishi, who are at the forefront of this project. The EOWP intends to erect offshore wind turbines which are fitted with Artemis’ “Digital Displacement®” hydraulic technology.

It will take a lot of inducement to make Tychy interested in wind turbines, which seem to be the epitome of everything forlorn, but Artemis’ energy-saving hydraulics are genuinely exciting, and they demonstrate an extensive application (trains, buses, cars) and commercial promise. Along with its partner company Pelamis Wave Power, Artemis is conceivably the golden boy of a new economic vision. Established at Edinburgh University by engineers who were inspired by the research of Professor Stephen Salter, Artemis/Pelamis represent a dedicated and highly disciplined entryism. Their engineers were sometimes idealistic about renewable technology but they always wished to find a home for it within existing corporate capitalism, however much hard work was required.

They should be congratulated for succeeding, for winning government grants and corporate sponsorship over the years, but this entryism has already conceded the necessity of low expectations and a steady progress. During his own presentation, the chief of Artemis, Dr Win Rampen, cracked a joke in which he reassured us that his wind turbines would be based entirely offshore, so that somebody like him who admires wind turbines would have to charter a boat to go and see them. Caldwell would later rebuke Scotland for rejecting “messy” manufacturing, but the alternative seems to be an industry which nobody can see. If the stipulation for development is that it has to be invisible, then we can scarcely expect dramatic strides in development.

It turns out that three turbines will be erected for a five year trial period. This astonishes me, outraging my sense of suitable industrial progress. Surely wind turbines should be thrown up willy-nilly, there will be mistakes and disasters, a “messy” process of trial and error? I protest that everything seems to be far too careful and risk averse, that if the first trial takes five years then it will be a century before the project is completed. But perhaps I do not really understand – engineers are like women, following their own obscure rules and raising endless inexplicable obstacles. Perhaps the money is tight and risks are expensive. Touring the facility, we later inspect a hydraulic braking system, which at this stage of its existence can save around 30% of a vehicle’s energy. It seems exciting, but this project will glide onward without any sense of urgency or industrial competition.

All of Artemis’ engineers are full of beans. There is an intimate and creative working environment, with open office space and a ready camaraderie. But it seems like a flourishing nest in a dead tree, with the system generally denying this company the freedoms and capital which they need to expand aggressively.

One wishes Artemis all the best, but words of caution are needed in the context of Scottish industry and the road to Scottish independence. Although radically different sums of money are involved, the announcement of the EOWP bears a passing comparison with last week’s confirmation that new British nuclear power stations will be most probably built by the Chinese state. Britain has a needy market for nuclear energy, but the technology, labour and presumably some of the initial capital for this new development can be provided only by large Chinese companies. Artemis can likewise proceed only with funding from Mitsubishi (in cautious partnership with various manifestations of the state), whilst its labour force is pooled from the cosmopolitan intellectual class recognisable from any of today’s university departments.

In other words, Artemis is Scottish only because of its location and its umbilical connection to Edinburgh University. It remains aloof from the Scottish economy; the skills and technology produced at Artemis are readily transferable to anywhere else (and there may be future difficulties over the ownership of the technology); and the outfit therefore cannot be said to reveal anything in particular about the health of Scottish industry. Globalisation by definition reduces everywhere to a setting, but with more investment from the state – ambitiously and unconditionally – companies such as Artemis could make a lasting home in our economy.

[Tychy previously wrote about Pelamis here. Ed.]