Isle of Man hopes to emulate the winning ways of its golden boy as it races to a green future
World champion cyclist Mark Cavendish likes to bill himself as “the fastest man on two wheels” and has just won the coveted BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in the UK.
What a perfect advert for the potential of the Isle of Man — the tiny island off the west coast of Britain where he was born and bred.
And what great timing, because just as the road and track racer cements his position as a household name — at least in Britain — so his birthplace makes a bid to do the same in the world of low carbon.
On 1 February, a minister from the oldest continuous parliament in the world — yes, the Isle of Man holds that record — comes to London to try to win recognition in the clean-technology field.
John Shimmin, the Manx Minister of Economic Development, is hosting a seminar to promote his island. The Manx government and its population of 85,000 want to convince renewable-energy investors to set up shop there.
Is it simply a forlorn PR stunt by a windswept but no-hope location jutting out into the Irish Sea? The Isle of Man is certainly windswept and it also offers opportunities for wind turbines, but it has much more than this to offer.
The island has a serious track record for testing new technology, has a zero corporation-tax rate and an existing precision-engineering base.
It also has wonderful golf courses. I have fond memories of playing at Castletown as a child with my golf-mad Scottish dad.
However, the Manxmen are not really focused on creating a zero-carbon island. Neither do they see themselves as just another Isle of Wight — UK home to Vestas and an island with low-carbon aspirations. Rather, they are inspired by city states such as Singapore,that have aspirations to be financial and clean-tech centres.
The Isle of Man has a small renewable-energy base around hydropower, waste recycling and the odd wind turbine. But most of the island’s power is sourced from gas-fired plants.
However, the islanders see clean-tech offering the same kind of opportunities as the e-commerce and mobile-phone sectors, where they have already made a name for themselves.
3G mobile-phone networks were tested on the Isle of Man before being rolled out to the rest of Europe, and the Manx government is currently in talks with a couple of unnamed companies about doing the same thing with a smart grid.
It is an easy place to have a go at a smart grid because the Manx Electricity Authority is publicly owned and does the whole thing: generation, distribution and supply.
Motorcycle racing fans will know the island for the carbon-fuelled Manx TT race, but it has also broken ground in this sphere, holding a “TT Zero” event, where electric motorbikes race round the treacherous and windy roads of the island.
In 2011, Michael Rutter took the chequered flag for the California-based Segway Racing MotoCzysz team, reaching an average speed of about 160km/h.
The island is also home to high-tech manufacturing, thanks to companies such as GE, which makes specialist aerospace parts for Boeing and Airbus.
Jaguar Land Rover holds a stake in Bladon Jets, a company that builds micro gas turbines for its cars, and several corporations have their head offices on the island. These include Renewable Energy Holdings, which has wind farms in Eastern Europe and is listed on the London junior stock market, AIM, as is Premier, a clean-tech investment fund.
Some enterprising Japanese have already arrived with a “United Brain Networks” plan to create an annual conference aimed at encouraging Japanese companies to use the island as a spearhead for selling low-carbon products in Europe.
But is the island ultimately just being used as a tax haven? The Manx government firmly rejects that suggestion.
Officials say the zero corporation, capital gains and inheritance taxes are not designed to attract brass plate companies but to create a proper commercial base that will create jobs, preferably highly skilled and well-paid.
Unemployment on the Isle of Man is just 2% and it has had continual economic growth for 20 years. That’s a record of which even Cavendish would be proud. Can the next 20 years be equally successful on the back of clean-tech?