Renewable Energy: Made in Britain
- By Leonie Greene -
- May 17, 2012
Leonie Greene, Head of External Affairs for the Renewable Energy Association (REA), explains in this guest blog, the story behind the new ‘Renewable Energy: Made in Britain’ report.
High levels of unemployment; ageing energy infrastructure; rising fossil fuel prices; an unbalanced economy; climate change… Why aren’t these familiar challenges being vigorously squared with the urgent need to grow the UK’s renewable energy sector?
That’s the question at the heart of REA & Innovas’ new report Renewable Energy: Made in Britain. For the first time we’ve quantified employment, turnover and exports right across the UK’s renewable energy sector. The results are impressive; over 100,000 people are employed in renewables, with sector turnover of around £12.5 billion in 2010/11 and a weighted average growth of 11% between 2009 and 2010.
And it’s not all wind and solar; 20 technologies and applications feature in the report, from deep geothermal to biomass CHP and from to heat pumps to green gas. If we’re to meet our 2020 renewable energy targets we estimate around 400,000 employees are needed in 2020 in very diverse jobs; from manual to highly skilled. We face huge challenges recruiting these people. With political leadership our challenge can be transformed into a major national employment opportunity.
The UK’s exceptional renewable energy resources could meet our energy needs many times over, but there is a persistent reluctance to give renewable energy the centre stage it deserves in the UK. Marginalising renewables is in danger of setting us apart. 12% of energy across Europe and 16% of global energy comes from renewables so with the UK on just 3.3%, we are already well behind. As President Obama has recognised, the country that leads the clean energy economy is likely to lead the global economy.
Cost is the common Westminster argument against more wholehearted investment. But costs only tell you one side of the story. One of the key asks of the report is for Treasury to routinely audit benefits. The UK consistently fails to do this leading to poor understanding of the benefits of investment including tax revenues, employment, exports, lower inflation and the growing balance of trade as our reliance on fossil imports grows. The German government routinely assesses benefits, not just costs, and they assert from a macro perspective ‘the benefits of renewable energies are already greater that their costs today.’ Their renewables industry now employs over 370,000 people and it is on the verge of challenging their car industry as the flagship of German manufacturing.
The British public remain highly supportive of renewable energy, despite ‘cynical vested interests’ finding, what Will Hutton in the report’s foreword calls, ‘an all too ready ear’ in parts of the media. Regional Government is also alive to the tremendous employment opportunities offered by renewable energy. Scotland has embraced renewables as a cornerstone of industrial renewal. The GLA’s London Plan appears to be driving strong investment in onsite renewables across the Capital.
Central Government clearly needs a nudge from the people. And the asks to make are common sense; cost benefits; join up industrial and energy policy; identify the sector’s unique skill needs and be creative in targeting groups needing quality employment, including young people.
The UK Government does provide good leadership on offshore wind, wave and tidal power where there is join-up with industrial policy. They now need to extend that successful approach right across the sector. A major push on renewable energy can answer many of the huge challenges we face head on.
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