In just three years, the UK’s wind energy workforce has nearly doubled. Research, the most comprehensive so far by Cambridge Econometrics on behalf of RenewableUK, shows that direct employment in onshore and offshore wind is up from 4,800 in 2007 to 9,200 people last year. On top of this the UK small wind systems and wave and tidal energy industries provide work for a further 2,000 full time employees.
Compare this to the economy as a whole: since 2008, quarterly GDP growth has, at best, achieved 1%. At worst, during the same period we have had six consecutive quarters of negative growth – and we are not out of the woods yet. The most recent statistics show that, after four quarters of growth, the economy has shrunk again by 0.5%. Against this backdrop, the wind sector has bucked the trend in a spectacular way; we have managed to grow the number of full-time employees by 91%.
It is also notable that this increase in jobs has mirrored the increase in the contribution to the national grid of electricity generation from renewable sources. Latest statistics show that renewables have provided over 27% of all electricity consumed in Scotland, with outputs from wind equalling all other renewable technologies put together. In the UK as a whole, the situation was similar: the total share of renewable electricity was 8.6%, with wind accounting for half of this and all other renewable sources the other half, compared with the generation mix in 2008 when the total share from wind stood at a modest 2%.
Looking to the next ten years a number of studies predict further growth. Estimates vary, but the wind sector alone could generate a between 60,000 and 80,000 jobs, bringing the UK renewable sector workforce in line with our European neighbours: Germany already employs 80,000 people in the wind energy sector. There is no reason why our offshore renewables, and here I mean both wind and marine energy industries such as wave and tidal, can’t deliver the triple benefits of high levels of inward investment, green, low carbon electricity as well as significant numbers of new employment opportunities.
This is where the Government’s role is absolutely crucial. We already know that there are real economic benefits to building wind and marine energy devices. For example, even without currently having a domestic manufacturer of large scale wind turbines, a full £1m worth of community benefit remains at local and regional level for every megawatt of onshore wind capacity over the lifespan of a wind farm in the UK. This is why RenewableUK has urged Government to focus on attracting wind turbine manufacturers to locate their new factories in the UK ahead of the next round of offshore wind developments.