The generation of renewable energy in the South West has more than doubled in the last year creating thousands of new jobs.
The remarkable growth has been dominated by solar PV, which has seen 160 MW of smaller-scale PV, and 75 MW of stand-alone solar parks, installed in 12 months.
According to Regen SW's Renewable Energy Progress Report, renewable electricity capacity increased from 217 MW in 2010/11 to 525 MW, and renewable heat capacity grew from 91.5 MW in 2010/11 to 119 MW in the same period.
It is estimated that 10,000 people are now employed in the sector in the South West - a jobs growth of 40 per cent year-on-year for the past few years in the teeth of the recession.
The Report says the number of renewable electricity projects installed increased by over 47,000, a dramatic leap from the 2010/2011 total of 8,084 projects.
This sharp increase can be attributed to three main areas of development: 160 MW of small and medium-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) installations; more than 75 MW of stand-alone solar farms; and the construction of the 66 MW wind farm at Fullabrook in North Devon.
In total, renewable electricity capacity in the South West has increased by 162 per cent in the past year, whereas generation has increased by only 56 per cent.
It is now estimated that the renewable energy projects currently installed in the South West generate 1.4 TWh of electricity - around 5.5 per cent of the most recent total electricity demand figures for the region of 25 TWh.
This is significantly lower than the national picture, where 11 per cent of electricity was supplied from renewable sources at the start of 2012.
In 2010 Regen SW undertook an assessment of onshore renewable energy resources. The assessment found there are resources for over 27.6 TWh of renewable energy within the region, the majority of which is from renewable electricity and combined heat and power generators.
The Report says: “It is clear that with only 525 MW of installed capacity, generating an estimated 1.4 TWh, there is a long way to go before the region begins to run out of potential resources.
“For the south west to play its role in achieving national targets as set out in the Renewable Energy Roadmap - to generate 15 per cent of energy demand from renewable sources by 2020 - 19 TWh of renewable energy would need to be generated.”
Regen SW predicts that solar parks are likely to be a major part of the 2012/2013 renewable electricity figures.
Applications were largely halted in spring 2011 when the government announced a fast track review of the Feed-in Tariff for solar parks, slashing the rates with just six weeks’ notice.
Before the change came into effect, over 20 solar farms were deployed, in the South West adding 75 MW to the region’s total capacity.
The number of applications for solar parks is now increasing again, as costs have dropped and projects are becoming financially viable using support from the ROCs regime.
Regen SW says the evidence in the South West shows the low-carbon economic revolution has started in earnest and the region has a golden opportunity to put renewable energy at the heart of our future prosperity.
In 2009/2010 Regen SW research showed 5,000 people employed in the south west renewable energy sector, a growth of 78 per cent in two years from our previous report.
The Renewable Energy Association’s Made in Britain report found 6,880 people employed in the sector in 2010/2011 although this report used a different methodology but the 40 per cent growth is in line with the previous trend.
“2011/2012 has seen continued strong growth. We estimate that 2,000 people were employed in the solar sector, up from 1,175 in the Made in Britain report. DECC’s map of renewable energy investment and jobs identifies investments creating 1,296 jobs in the south west in the year.
“Overall figures are not yet available but, based on our knowledge of the sectors, we believe it is safe to conclude that jobs’ growth has continued at a rate of at least 40 per cent and we are now in the region of 10,000 people employed in renewable energy in the south west.”
Regen SW predicts there is jobs’ growth across the renewables sector but possibly the greatest opportunity is in offshore renewables.
Two multi-billion-pound offshore wind projects are being developed in the South West and the region has a leading role in the developing wave and tidal sector.
“We estimate that there are at least 350 jobs in the wave and tidal sector alone. Firms such as Tidal Energy Generation and Marine Current Turbines are leading the world in technology development, and marine operations companies in Devon and Cornwall are employed across the world deploying offshore renewables.
“The South West Marine Energy Park prospectus identifies potential for over 5,000 offshore jobs in the period from 2017 and sets a target to make this happen.”
Looking ahead, the Report sets out five lessons to make the most of jobs and growth potential from renewable energy.
It says a clear, consistent government policy is vital, including clarity on ROCs, Electricity Market Reform and the Renewable Heat Incentive over coming months.
Targeted strategies are needed nationally and locally to make the most of the economic opportunities from renewable energy.
It says some elected representatives are misreading the public mood because evidence shows there is a strong and consistent majority in favour of renewables.
It concludes that we need all renewables although there is no silver-bullet technology and communities must be more engaged in renewable energy developments.