September 18, 2013 10:06 pm

UK wind power industry enjoys 70 per cent surge in full-time jobs

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The World's Largest Wind Farm©Bloomberg

The UK produces more offshore wind energy than the rest of the world combined

The number of people with a full-time job in the UK wind industry has soared 70 per cent in three years according to a study that is likely to strengthen the political influence of one of the most contentious types of green energy.

The onshore wind farms that critics say are blighting the countryside now employ 9,900 people, up from 6,600 in 2010, according to a study by independent researchers commissioned by wind and utility industry groups.

Jobs in less obtrusive offshore wind farms have grown even faster, from 3,100 to 6,800, while jobs in the smaller wave- and tidal-power sector have doubled to 1,700.

When indirect employment is included, the report shows a total of 34,300 people rely on industries that barely existed a decade ago, a figure that researchers say could jump to 70,000 over the next decade.

The study*, Working for a Green Britain and Northern Ireland, reveals that 91 per cent of employees in both the onshore and offshore wind industry are UK citizens, often working in parts of the country with high unemployment. Only 20 per cent are women, but that is proportionally more than in the broader power sector.

The jobs spurt should boost public support for the industry said Maria McCaffery, chief executive of the RenewableUK trade group that jointly commissioned the report with the Energy & Utility Skills body. “Everyone will know someone who works in the wind and marine energy sector,” she told the FT.

“The business case for the sector will be even stronger too, making it harder for politicians of all persuasions to criticise a British success story.”

This has proven to be the case already in countries such as the US, where attempts to cut a longstanding renewable energy subsidy last year were fought off with the help of politicians from states with large numbers of wind farms. The US wind industry supports more than 80,000 jobs, according to industry estimates.

In the EU, however, weak economic conditions have made subsidies for wind power and other forms of renewable energy more controversial in recent years. Some countries, including those with big wind industries such as Spain, have slashed support.

Still, costs in the older onshore wind industry have come down as the industry has matured, meaning subsidies should eventually be less important.

The newer offshore sector, which has to install and maintain turbines under more challenging conditions out at sea, has struggled to bring down its costs quickly and is likely to require large subsidies for some time if investors are to back it.

The industry has been weighed down by the fact that although the UK is the leading offshore wind farm power – with more generating capacity than the rest of the world combined – it has been slow to see growth in jobs. This is because most of the turbines, and other offshore wind farm components, are made abroad and shipped to the UK.

Ms McCaffery said the industry still needed to see more commitment from the government, which is introducing a new system of subsidies for renewable energy companies to boost investment in the power sector.

“We’re seeing some mixed messaging at the moment from some political quarters,” she said. “That will melt away as the sector expands and the economic benefits are more widely appreciated.”

*The study was compiled by Cambridge Econometrics with IFF Research and the Warwick Institute for Employment Research.

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