When will we see green jobs in the UK?

| 13th January 2010
Offshore wind turbines

The UK currently lags behind Germany, Denmark and Spain in manufacturing, design and supply chain jobs in the wind sector

Will the latest announcement of nine proposals for offshore wind projects and a promised £100bn worth of investment lead to new jobs in the UK or elsewhere?

It sounded triumphant. Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the new round of renewable licenses provided a ‘substantial platform for foreign investment in UK businesses’.

The meaning was clear: new jobs were on the way. 

‘The offshore wind industry is at the heart of the UK economy's shift to low carbon and could be worth £75bn and support up to 70,000 jobs by 2020,’ he said, adding, ‘I am definitely going to do everything I can to bring these jobs to Britain.’

Green jobs

It is not the first time the UK Government has championed ‘green jobs’.

In June 2009, as part of the 'Low Carbon Industrial Strategy', climate and energy secretary Ed Miliband said that 200,000 new green jobs would be created in the UK by 2015, and a further 300,000 jobs by 2020, as part of a drive to meet the Government’s climate change commitments and fuel a low-carbon economy.

Miliband’s comments came after a British Wind and Energy Association (BWEA) report said if 20GW of offshore wind farms were developed in UK waters by 2020 it would result in 45,000 UK-based jobs in manufacturing, operations and maintenance.

However, there was a caveat, and that was that two-thirds of the manufacturing took place in the UK.

Recently, BWEA has been more sceptical about the UK's progress since 2008 and said despite the nation's lead in offshore wind energy generation, it currently trails behind other big wind energy producing countries – particularly Germany, Denmark and Spain – in manufacturing, design and supply chain jobs.

Vestas closure

Within the UK there is a history of ailing local jobs in the renewable energy sector. In April 2009, Vestas, whose turbines produce 20 per cent of global wind energy, announced that it was closing its blade manufacturing plant on the Isle of Wight, dispensing with 600 employees in the process.

Although the research and development facility on the island was unaffected by the cuts, Vestas said the plant itself was unlikely to open again in the next few years.

'All of a sudden British MPs have decided to spend some money on renewable energy but I'm afraid I don't think that will be a game-changer for the Isle of Wight factory,' said a Vestas spokesperson.

Looking elsewhere around the UK, a similar pattern emerges. Energy giant E.ON, which was recently awarded a sizable offshore wind farm zone, already has operations at Blyth and Scroby Sands, as well as a recently acquired stake at London Array, a wind farm project in the outer Thames Estuary.

But, according to E.ON, of the £2 billion earmarked for the London Array site only £180m is being invested into UK companies.

Investment lacking

Friends of the Earth's renewable energy campaigner Nick Rau said companies were not the only ones at fault for the UK’s shortcomings in creating renewable sector jobs.

'The Government must do more to develop the UK's vast wind energy potential and ensure that Britain reaps the benefits of creating thousands of new green jobs,' said Rau.

But serious state-backed investment remains absent in the UK. Just one sixth of the Government's fiscal stimulus package was devoted to green industries, a tiny amount compared to other countries.
The US Government has spent more than £50 billion creating half a million new green jobs. And in Asia, Japan, Korea and China have all announced major plans to develop their renewable energy sectors.

The UK lags behind in Europe too, with Denmark leading the way on Government-backed initiatives facilitating growth in renewable energy.

Last month the solar energy manufacturing industry in Denmark got a boost when three Danish pension funds agreed to invest more than €100 million in renewable energy projects - a product of the government's 30-year subsidised price guarantee on solar energy sold to the grid.

Can UK catch up?

Greenpeace UK said the Government could still kickstart a green jobs revolution if it was willing to make 'some very serious investment into training and skills development, into the clearing of ports, and into developing the UK’s supply chain in the UK’s renewable sector'.

But one key stumbling block is the lack of proper infrastructure, according to the BWEA. 

BWEA says the UK Government desperately needs to take a lead in upgrading UK ports so that they can cope with giant wind turbines and other renewable energy technologies.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary Simon Hughes agreed: 'Offshore wind turbines are huge – about the same size as the London Eye – and need to be manufactured close to the site where they will be installed. That’s why we need to invest in our port facilities if we're to benefit from a green jobs boost.

'Countries like Denmark and Germany have improved their manufacturing base – particularly by upgrading their ports – to become world leaders in offshore wind construction,' he said.

Hughes remains sceptical of the Government’s ability to catch up with the likes of Denmark and the USA.

'The Government has been desperately slow in meeting the EU’s renewable energy targets. After a lost decade, its announcement on wind farms is a start, but we have real fears that a golden opportunity to invest in green jobs could be lost,' he said.

Useful Links

London Array project
Environmental Audit Committee report on green skills and jobs
British Wind and Energy Association (BWEA)

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Ten-year survey of house sales in US finds wind turbines have no negative affect on market price despite public fears
Carbon emissions: the world in 2010
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Nuclear gets fast-track, but renewables left with little
New Government planning rules will shorten the approval process for big power projects like nuclear plants, but do little for the local renewables sector
CASE STUDY: setting up a community micro-hydroelectric project
The UK’s first community-funded hydroelectric scheme, Torrs Hydro is generating green energy as well as interest in H2O power
Power On - Wind
The UK has been described as the ‘Saudi Arabia’ of wind, with some 50 TWh of onshore and at least 450 TWh of offshore power available every year


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