Wind, wave and tidal employment soars in the UK

A report published last week by the industry trade body RenewableUK has revealed that the number of people employed in the United Kingdom’s wind, wave and tidal sectors has soared over the last three years.

The report, entitled ‘Working for a Green Britain and Northern Ireland’, is an update of a report previously produced in 2010. It was produced, jointly,  by RenewableUK and Energy & Utility Skills, and compiled by Cambridge Econometrics in partnership with IFF Research and the Warwick Institute for Employment Research.

The report has revealed a 74% increase in the number of people employed, both directly and indirectly, by the UK’s wind, wave and tidal sectors. The figure now stands at over 34,300. Directly the  three sectors employ 18,365 full time staff. 15,908 people are also in full time employment due indirectly to these sectors. Many of these staff work, for example, providing goods and services to the UK’s renewable industry in fields such as gearbox component manufacture. It is worth noting that 91% of the 34,300+ people employed due to the UK’s renewable industry are UK citizens. This demonstrates the importance of the renewables sector to creating jobs within the UK and belies many newspaper articles presenting the opinion that the use of renewable energy in the UK is only creating jobs abroad.

It is also worth making the point that many of these jobs have been created in areas of the UK which suffer from high unemployment. For instance the onshore wind sector is creating large amounts of jobs in the Scottish Highlands and Islands; areas of the UK in which unemployment of the UK has remained stubbornly high for many years but also contain some of the best renewable energy resources in Europe.

The geographic spread of the UK renewable energy industry’s job creation can also be seen in the growth of the offshore wind sector. The offshore wind sector has seen the highest level of job creation of any part of the energy industry. In three years the sector has doubled; from 3,151 full time employees to 6,830 full time employees.

Renewables are also helping to bring more women into the energy industry. Women make up 20% of full time employees in the renewable energy sector. This is proportionately higher than the UK’s energy industry as a whole. Renewables, therefore, can be seen to be bringing women into one of the country’s most important industries.

Another interesting point that the report raises is the number of small and medium enterprises which are involved in the UK’s renewable sector. More than 80% of the full time staff in the wind, wave and tidal sectors work for companies which have less than 250 employees. Furthermore 56% of these companies have less than 25 employees. Small and medium enterprises are at the heart of the UK’s renewable energy industry and have been a major factor in its growth. The renewable energy industry is a functioning example of the rhetoric deployed across the political spectrum; of an economy largely made and driven by flexible, dynamic small and medium companies.

Announcing the publication of the report RenewableUK’s Chief Executive Maria McCaffrey made the following statement:

“Today’s report clearly demonstrates how the wind, wave and tidal industries are creating jobs and growth for the economy. There are tens of thousands of people employed in skilled jobs the length and breadth of the country building a world-leading industry in the UK and providing clean, reliable energy.

“Industry and Government need to work side by side to back this workforce and the growth they generate. If the UK gets this right, our wind, wave and tidal industries could employ more than 70,000 people over the next decade. The offshore wind sector alone could be employing nearly 45,000 workers in the 2020s. As an industry we are truly creating jobs out of fresh air.

“The scale of the opportunity is massive, but success is not guaranteed. To really harness the economic benefits of our technologies we must ensure that there is certainty for industry. Certainty on future levels of deployment of wind, wave and tidal energy over the next decade will enable firms to invest in the right people and the right skills, and ensure we maximise the number of green collar jobs we create as we transform our electricity system. We want to ensure offshore wind is given the same opportunity to prosper as the North Sea oil and gas industries had in their heyday”.

It was also announced today that the World Energy Council considers the UK to have one of the sustainable national energy systems in the world.  The Council was announcing the establishment of a new ranking system for national energy systems. The UK was one of only five countries to obtain a triple-A rating; the other countries were Denmark, Spain, Switzerland and Sweden. The rankings are obtained by assessing the manner in which a country balances the three key issues involved in energy systems; energy security, environmental sustainability and energy equity.

The UK scored particularly highly in the environmental sustainability of its national energy system. The World Energy Council praised particularly the UK’s drive for wind energy, which is serving to create security of supply and to shield the UK from price fluctuation on the international gas markets. However the Council did note that perhaps more could be done to ensure closer partnerships between the public and private sectors.

These two pieces of news demonstrate that the UK’s renewable energy industry is not only creating tens of thousands of full time jobs across the country but is also gaining the country international praise for the direction in which it has taken it’s energy industry as a whole.

Europe’s largest tidal array granted planning consent

This week it was announced that the Scottish Government has granted planning consent to what will be Europe’s largest tidal array energy project.

The go ahead for the project was announced by Scottish Government Energy Minister Fergus Ewing, earlier this week, saying;  “Today we have granted consent to MeyGen Limited to develop the largest tidal turbine array in Europe and the first commercial project off these shores.”

Maygen is a joint venture between the investment bank Morgan Stanley, GDF Suez, International Power, and Atlantis Resources Corporation (a developer of tidal energy technology). A 25 year lease has already been agreed with the Crown Estate for 1.4 square miles of fast flowing water between the north-eastern tip of the Scottish mainland and the Island of Stroma. Planning consent has been granted for the development of around 86 1 MW (Megawatt) turbines. This would generate up to 86 MWs of electricity, enough to power 42,000 homes or 40% of the homes in the Highlands according to Scottish Government sources.

However, development is scheduled to occur in phases. With construction happening up until 2020. The first phase of the development is the installation of 9 of the 1 MW turbines to act as a demonstration of the successful commercialization of the technology. Each turbine stands 22.5 metres tall (73 feet), weighs 1,500 tonnes, and has a rotor diameter of 18 metres (59 feet) The site within the Pentland Firth could eventually yield up to 398 MWs of power.

Tidal and marine energy generation are considered by both the UK and Scottish Governments to have a huge role to play in the fulfillment of the countries renewable energy commitments. Improvement and refinement of the necessary technology will continue in the coming years but the development of the Pentland Firth array will act as both a milestone for the technology itself and also for Scotland’s world leading marine energy industry. The Carbon Trust has estimated that wave and tidal technology could provide 20% of the UK’s electricity demand if our resources are fully developed.

News of the granting of planning consent was met favourably by both industry and environmental bodies. A spokesperson for WWF Scotland commented:

“Scotland is well placed to lead in developing the technologies to turn this potential into a reality while create thousands of green jobs at the same time,

“However, as there is little point in generating huge amounts of marine renewable energy on Scotland’s islands if it cannot also be got to the mainland, we now need UK and Scottish Ministers to find a way forward that enables us to harness the full potential of this clean energy source.

“With careful planning we can harness Scotland’s huge wave and tidal energy to help cut our climate emissions, while safeguarding the nation’s tremendous marine environment.”

Scottish Renewables Policy Manager Michael Rieley stated:

“Scotland has just been given another reason to be proud of its burgeoning marine energy industry now that Europe’s largest tidal stream energy project will be calling Scotland home. This is by far one of the most important milestones for the tidal energy sector to meet.

“This latest announcement to come from the marine industry is further proof that all the hard work to win the global energy race is paying off. Not only will new projects like this mean a step further towards meeting our renewable energy targets, but it will also lead to further jobs being created, increased investment, and a significant contribution towards tackling climate change.”

In regards to onshore wind generation, UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey announced this week that onshore wind developments on the Scottish Islands are to be incentivised through the use of “strike prices”; higher subsidy payments than such developments would receive on the mainland. It was stated that the new price of £115 MW/h (megawatt hour) has been set to reflect the unique circumstances and potential of carrying out such renewable energy developments. The “strike price” does not apply for any other form of power generation than onshore wind. Often suitable sites on the Isles are subject to higher wind speeds than would be encountered on the mainland. However, costs can be far higher due to the potential difficulties and extra costs associated with connecting into the electricity grid. This is the first time that the UK Government has set a higher strike price for a specific region of the UK.

Mr Davey commented:

“This is good news for the future of renewables in Scotland and this unique solution will pave the way for more investment in green energy.

“An independent report showed that the specific circumstances of the Scottish islands required a different approach that breaks the mould of the wider UK strike price mechanism, and we are delivering that.

“This was possible because of a strong partnership between Westminster, Holyrood and the island councils.

“Thanks to consumers across the whole of the United Kingdom, we can offer this special higher strike price, so Britain gets more green energy, so consumers’ bills in Scotland are kept affordable and so the green economy of the islands grows.”

From the news announced this week we can see the central role that Scotland, and in particular the Scottish Islands, have to play in not only increasing the UK’s energy security, meeting renewable energy generation targets, and reducing carbon emissions but also in the development of a world class industry capitalising on the natural resources of the country.

Island Interconnectors would qualify for Green Bank funding

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Mike Mackenzie, MSP for the Highlands and Islands region, has confirmed with the UK’s Green Investment Bank that projects involving the installation of interconnectors  to Scotland’s Islands would fit their funding criteria.

The installation of interconnectors would offer several benefits to both residents of the islands and the mainland. Interconnectors would allow for renewable energy which is being generated on the islands to be transmitted to the mainland. This would open up a a large amount of renewable energy capacity to the UK’s electricity grid. Some of the country’s most suitable sites for renewable energy development, particularly in the marine and offshore wind sectors, are to be found in the isles. However the relative lack of energy demand on the islands acts as a hindrance to such developments. The installation of interconnectors would not only help to provide additional energy security to the UK’s electricity consumers and help to keep energy prices down it would also provide inward investment to the people of the islands.

The Green Investment Bank, which was launched in 2012, was established to provide funding to projects which would “accelerate the UK’s transition to a  green economy”. Already funding has been provided to a wide variety of projects including offshore wind farms, several biomass projects and hospital energy efficiency schemes. Interconnector projects, which would open up so much potential energy generation, would very possibly fall under the umbrella of offshore wind or marine energy projects which are at this time considered to be a priority by the Green Investment Bank.

An example of the projects which could proceed given the installation of interconnectors would be the proposed Beaw Field wind farm on the isle of Shetland. It has already been confirmed that the proposed project, which could produce up to 100 megawatts of power, will only proceed if an interconnector is installed between Shetland and the mainland. The installation of an interconnector itself is dependant upon another develoment on the isle proceeding – the 457MW Viking Energy wind farm which has been granted planning permission. The nature of these two schemes also demonstrates the onshore wind potential of the Islands.

Confirmation was gained by Mr Mackenzie at last week’s meeting of the Scottish Governments Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, which was taking evidence from the Green Investment Bank’s Chairman, Chief Executive and Operation’s Director. When asked by Mr Mackenzie if the Bank would consider investment in interconnector projects Sean Kingsley, Chief Executive, responded that he felt this to be a “great idea”.

Following the conclusion of the committee Mr Mackenzie made the following comment:

“This is fantastic news for the Highlands and Islands. I am pleased to see that there is a possibility of investment from the Green Investment Bank and I will be following up today’s exchange in the committee with a letter to the bank to try and help turn those words into action.”

“Renewable energy projects, both large and small, on Scotland’s Islands are currently disadvantaged because they are unable to transport their energy to the grid. Because of their great natural resources their potential is massive – as the recent Scottish Islands Renewable Report illustrated –New submarine cables [interconnectors] are urgently needed to transport the significant amounts of renewable electricity which can be generated on Scotland’s islands to mainland consumers, so these interconnectors would be a great low-risk investment for the bank.

“I sincerely hope that this investment possibility is followed up by the bank, and I look forward to hearing further from them on this matter.”

Additionally, last week the BBC carried out an energy survey as part of Radio Five Live’s Energy Day. Energy Day saw an entire day’s worth of programming transmitted from a temporary studio powered entirely by renewable energy. Energy was generated from a variety of sources including solar panels, onshore wind turbines and even exercise bikes!

The survey, which interviewed 1035 adults, found that a significant majority of the public would be happy to see renewable energy developments take place in their local area. 67% of those surveyed would be happy to see more wind farms and 84% gave their approval to more solar developments.This is in stark contrast to shale gas fracking which found support from a minority of only 33% of the population.

Dale Vince, founder of British green energy company Ecotricty remarked; “The fact 67% of people support having more wind farms in their area is not a surprise at all – every public survey for the past two decades has come back with the same result.”

The survey also revealed the existence of  a generation gap in feelings towards renewable energy. Whilst a majority of 54% of those aged over 65 said they would be happy to see more wind energy developments in their local area this figure rose significantly to 82% of those aged between 25-34. It has often been said that renewable energy is the future. Demographics would seem to support this opinion.

The UK has some of the best renewable energy development potential in the world and the Scottish Islands have some of the best renewable energy development potential in the UK.  The installation of interconnectors between the Islands and the mainland would unlock a large amount of this potential. Providing energy security for all and much needed  inward investment to some of the country’s most isolated communities.

 

New surveys reveals continuing support for renewable energy

The Department of Energy and Climate Change published it’s sixth quarterly tracker survey yesterday.

The survey is carried out every three months to monitor the public’s attitudes to the government’s energy policies. Face to face interviews were carried out at 2,124 households in early July. The published results confirm that the public’s support for renewable energy remains widespread.

76% of those polled stated that they supported or strongly supported the continuing use and expanding development of the UK’s vast renewable energy resources.

Whilst this represents a very slight decline from previous survey results it should be pointed out that the poll was conducted at the height of the shale gas industry’s media blitz, particularly within the right wing press.

This media campaign does not appear to have had the desired affect. There was no change in the level of people who oppose or strongly oppose renewable energy. Only 5% of those polled gave this opinion; demonstrating that this view remains the preserve of an extremist minority. It is also worth making the point that despite much lobbying those parts of the UK which have been proposed as areas suitable for shale gas exploration, or fracking, have seen widespread and organised protests against the proposals.

18% of those surveyed commented that they had no opinion on renewable energy development. This equals the highest level recorded since the surveys were first carried out. Again this suggests that the campaign against renewables in some parts of the media is failing to have the desired affect.

The poll also revealed further positive news for the renewable energy industry. 71% of the people polled gave the opinion that they believe renewable energy to be economically beneficial to the UK. This is a 2% increase from the 69% of people who gave this opinion in the previous survey. Furthermore, 56% revealed that they would be happy to have a large scale renewable development in their local area. Again this was an increase from the previous poll in which 55% gave this opinion. The upwards trend of these opinions can perhaps be attributed to the fact that more renewable energy developments have came online in the time between the two surveys. More people have had a chance to see the economic benefits of renewable energy development in terms of community contributions and job creation. As the positive impacts of renewable energy are felt more widely one can expect the upwards trend of such opinions to continue.

The survey broke down support levels for individual forms of renewable energy generation: 81% stated their support for solar energy, 72% for wave and tidal energy, 71% for offshore wind generation, 65% for onshore wind generation and 60% for biomass. It has been suggested that the reason  wave and tidal and offshore wind have polled so highly is due their relatively low visual impact as opposed to their cost effectiveness; a standard in which other technologies such as onshore wind rank far higher.

In contrast to the continuing support for renewable energy nuclear power saw its support amongst the public continue to decline. Only 37% of those involved in the poll gave their support to its use in the UK. The level of support for nuclear has declined of several quarterly surveys and one can perhaps expect this trend to continue given the continued presence of the Fukushima disaster in the news. 25% of those polled opposed the use of nuclear power (contrasted with the 5% who did not support nuclear) and 35% had no opinion. The decline in support for nuclear as well as the uncertainty surrounding the prospects of new nuclear plants being built indicates that renewables will very much remain key to UK government energy policy.

DECC has long maintained that it regards the future of UK energy generation to be the use of a variety of different energy sources; what is often referred as the ‘mixed portfolio’. This stance continues to have a strong level of support from the UK public with 81% of those polled giving their backing to this policy.

The poll has revealed some of the issues which DECC is facing in terms of public awareness. 74% of people polled commented that they had thought ‘a fair amount’ or indeed a lot about home energy efficiency. Despite this and the launch of the Green Deal this year 47% revealed that they had never heard of smart meters. More will need to be done in this area but it should be noted that this figure represents an improvement on the 53% who gave the same answer in the previous quarter. Additionally the widespread roll out of smart meters (all homes and businesses are expected to have smart meters installed by 2020) is not scheduled to begin until 2015.

The fact that there exists a majority consensus on climate change is also good news for the renewable industry with 66% of the public fairly or very concerned about the issue. 38% of those polled attributed climate change mainly or entirely to human causes. 42% felt that it was being caused by a combination of human and natural causes and only 12% giving the opinion that it was being caused mainly or solely due to natural developments. These results indicate that the debate on the widespread use of renewable energy is far better placed in the UK than it is in a country such as the United States where the climate change debate is far more divisive both publicly and politically. A consensus existing on climate change means that the debate can move forward to how best to address it; which renewable energy generation can play an extremely major part in doing.

Support for renewable energy remains widespread in the UK. It is our hope that we at ILI (Renewable Energy) can do our part to increase it.