UK GOVERNMENT figures show confident strides taken by the Scottish renewable energy sector mean green power could provide more of the country’s electricity than any other source within the next few years.
This year is already looking promising. Department of Energy and Climate Change statistics show renewable energy is on track to become Scotland’s main source of power, and is already generating the equivalent of 40 per cent of our electricity needs. That’s more than coal, more than gas – and is the strongest signal yet that we’re well on our way to meeting the ambitious target of generating 100 per cent by 2020.
Not only are we producing low-carbon energy for households and businesses and helping meet European targets of reducing emissions and tackling climate change, but renewable energy is delivering opportunities for people who want to work in the sector.
In what is the most comprehensive study to date, Scottish Renewables has published findings which suggest there are now 11,695 people working in renewable energy in Scotland. This is a 5 per cent growth on the previous year’s figures, and the surest sign yet that we are creating opportunities in the labour market. Major reforms in the electricity markets – leading to uncertainty in the industry – make this rise even more laudable. The 5 per cent growth in renewables jobs is higher than the growth in Scotland’s overall employment rate.
The most mature of the renewable energy sectors, onshore wind, was the greatest source of employment (39 per cent), with offshore wind (21 per cent), bioenergy (9 per cent) and marine (9 per cent) all contributing.
It’s interesting offshore wind should employ so many, despite not yet having consent for any of five major projects currently planned. We should take this as a sign that the sector is readying itself for the first of those projects when that go-ahead is eventually given.
It’s not just the “what” but the “where” that matters. Unlike traditional power stations that tend to employ large numbers of employees in one specific area, renewables by their very nature can spread the benefits more widely, with jobs located across various regions and locales.
The findings of the independent Scottish Renewables’ report – which surveyed more than 540 companies – showed Glasgow was the country’s top renewable energy employer, followed by the Lothians.
The Highlands and Islands was found to be a key centre for onshore wind and hydro, while the North-east dominated in terms of offshore wind jobs. While we may see more project managers, ecologists and graduates set their sights on a career in renewables, we have also seen more businesses transfer the skillset they have acquired in mature energy sectors such as oil and gas for use in the emerging offshore renewables sector.
This diversification has not only helped the rise of renewables employment figures, but is securing a brighter future for businesses in what are still difficult economic times.
More women are finding their way into the industry, with the survey showing that 28 per cent of Scotland’s renewables workforce is female. While that may not seem like a lot, it’s a much more positive picture than most engineering or oil and gas sectors can offer. With new networks such as Women in Renewable Energy Scotland (WiRES) being established in the last year, we’re sure to see this proportion rise.
Looking to the future, the survey asked companies how they felt about recruitment in the next 12 months. Promisingly, more than half said they would be looking to employ even more people, a further 42 per cent said they thought their employment figure would stay the same and only 1.6 per cent expected it to decrease.
The same respondents to the survey said they felt electricity market reform continued to be barrier to growth, along with the costs and challenges of connecting projects to the grid and uncertainty within the planning process.
We can’t ignore these considerable threats on the industry’s horizon, and it will be down to organisations like Scottish Renewables and others to use 2014 as an opportunity to find ways to overcome these barriers. We want to be the main source of electricity in this country, a significant employer in Scotland and a major economic driver.
These latest statistics show that, with the right policies in place, those aims are within our grasp.
• Joss Blamire is Senior Policy Manager for Scottish Renewables. To read the full report visit www.scottishrenewables.com