Rapid offshore wind farm development is vital in hitting energy targets according to a research report released this week as it was revealed the number of onshore planning bids has slumped to a seven-year low.
The UK will struggle to achieve its legally binding target of 15% renewable energy from renewable sources by 2020, according to the report findings from the the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr).
The group claims a rapid expansion of offshore wind capacity is needed but also warns that without greater government support, the opportunity to create up to 70,000 long-term 'green-collar' jobs will be lost.
In a new paper, ippr says that despite having the greatest offshore wind potential of any country in the world, the UK is poorly placed to benefit.
Despite ambitious plans to expand offshore wind farms over the next decade, only 700 people are currently employed in the sector and there is only one UK-based factory that manufactures parts for wind turbine parts.
The ippr ‘Green Jobs’ report follows a series of reports and announcements on the potential of the renewable energy sector to create ‘green-collar’ jobs.
Matthew Lockwood, Senior Research Fellow for ippr, said: “Offshore wind has great potential for UK jobs but we risk being blown off course. The government’s pledge to achieve ambitious renewable energy targets by 2020 shows it is serious about its potential but we need to follow through with concrete policies to create greater certainty for industry, maximise the potential for the UK economy and realise our environmental goals.”
And Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary, added: “The offshore wind industry could create tens of thousands of good, green jobs in the UK but the recession has shaken the industry’s confidence and exposed the need for Government support for green infrastructure investment.
“The ippr’s excellent analysis shows how this can be done through an offshore wind investment programme but this has to be matched by developing workforce skills – shortages of engineering and manufacturing skills must be addressed now as a green answer to the recession.”
Following decisions by companies such as Iberdrola Renewables, to make cuts to their planned UK investments, ippr says the sector needs to be given greater confidence that the ambitions for developing the UK’s offshore wind capacity will be delivered.
Ippr also recommends that the UK government learns the lesson of industrial activism from countries such as Denmark, Spain and Germany which have all been successful in developing a local onshore wind industry, the report argues for an ‘offshore wind investment programme’ to achieve this.
The report argues that as well as maximising the number of jobs available, the government also need to think more strategically about ensuring that the workforce has the right skills to take advantage of those job opportunities by assessing and addressing the shortage of engineering and manufacturing skills in the UK.
Dr Gordon Edge, BWEA Director of Economics and Markets, said: “A host of independent studies has shown that the wind sector in the UK can be a motor for economic growth. Wind can provide clean, sustainable energy, while attracting investment and creating employment. It is a win-win situation, which, with the right policy framework in place, can benefit the country as a whole.
"Government primarily needs to act to make sure that there is a strong market for offshore wind, without which manufacturers will not be interested. Then there needs to be strategic investment in infrastructure such as port facilities, with a single area chosen to be a manufacturing hub. Finally, there needs to be strong focus on training the skilled employees needed, and on simplifying and extending support for innovation in this sector.”