The Contribution of Scotland’s Onshore Wind Industry

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has announced that the onshore wind sector in Scotland accounted for more than half the total turnover for the entire UK wind energy generation industry.

New figures launched last week state that Scotland’s wind industry generated £1.6 billion (55.9%) in turnover compared to England (£905m), Northern Ireland (£189m) and Wales (£150m). It was however confirmed that although turnover was higher in Scotland the total number of full-time jobs in the sector was lower than in England.

Scotland’s turnover was higher as it generates more electricity from onshore wind however this component of the industry is not labour intensive, especially once the installations are operational. The job count in England is higher due to more design and manufacturing elements both of which are much more labour intensive.

Approximately 3,000 businesses were operating in the UK onshore wind industry in 2014. In total approximately 6,500 people were employed by these businesses, 3,000 in England, 2,500 in Scotland and 500 each in Northern Ireland and Wales.

The Office for National Statistics confirmed that this data has come from a new survey launched in 2015 to closely examine the low-carbon and renewable energy economy in the UK. The first round of data and results was published in December last year and the final results are due to be published this month. The most up to date figures show that onshore wind contributes 3.1% of all UK low-carbon and renewable energy businesses.

Speaking of the data Lang Banks, director of environmental charity WWF Scotland said: “These figures underline the importance of onshore wind to Scotland, both in terms of our economy and in creating jobs.

“However, if we are to enjoy all the benefits that would come from an entirely renewable power sector we need to see a clear energy strategy from [the] next Scottish Government that gets behind this inevitable transition away from thermal power.

“By adopting a strategy that majors on flexibility, demand reduction and storage, Scotland could become the EU’s first fully renewable electricity nation by 2030.

“With opinion polling showing that over 70% of people see clear economic benefits from renewable energy, it’s clear this is an approach that the public could get behind.”

Only a small percentage (3.1%) of businesses operating in the low-carbon and renewable energy economy are in the onshore wind industry compared with, for example, 19.7% involved in solar. The Office for National Statistics stated this was due to many businesses generating electricity from solar panels and receiving feed-in tariffs (FITs), including farmers using their land to generate income from solar panels. The industry also benefited the overall economy, importing over £140million of goods and services in 2014. Turnover in the UK’s onshore wind sector, £2.8bn, was 6.1% of total low-carbon and renewable energy economy turnover and slightly higher than the solar sector (£2.5bn).

According to the Office for National Statistics this was mainly due to more electricity being generated from onshore wind than solar panels. In 2014, a total of 19.1% of UK electricity generation came from renewable sources, with 64.7 terawatt hours (TWh) generated. The onshore wind industry accounted for 28.7% of this, with 18.6 TWh. The solar sector accounted for 6.3% of electricity from renewables, with 4.1 TWh.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland has made great progress in increasing the amount of green electricity in our energy mix and annually we are now producing double the amount we did in 2006.”

Scotland is officially the windiest country in Europe so it should come to no surprise that our onshore wind industry is doing well. However if you compare us to other northern European countries like Denmark, we fall behind in generation levels.

Some of this can be attributed to a lack of infrastructure plus there are many places in Scotland which due to significantly beautiful scenery even us would not want wind turbine located. That said there is belief within the industry that despite what the UK government says we have not reached the point where we no longer need new installations and that there is still many resources that can be exploited.

However without assistance there is no new investment which means no new installations and in turn generation levels plateauing. There will still be a few new wind turbines and solar panels here and there as we edge towards the final cut off of the Feed-in-Tariff however it is with a sense that much more could have been achieved.

Over the past eight years Scotland’s renewable energy generation levels have consistently increased however without new installations it won’t be long before they peak.

As renewable energy generation in Scotland reaches its peak industry giants SSE have launched a new 100% renewable energy contract for businesses stating that all electricity supplied under the contract will come from renewable sources such as wind farms and hydro installations. This will allow large industrial and commercial operations in the UK to report zero greenhouse gas emissions from their purchased electricity.

With reductions to our greenhouse gas emissions a legal obligation the ability for our industries to be able to purchase zero emission electricity is a huge benefit. How many take it up remains to be seen but should the tariff be over-subscribed then surely that is an indication that, despite what some may say, we still require more renewable energy.

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