THE UK risks missing emissions targets, as well as securing thousands of jobs, if it fails to maximise its potential to become a world leader in offshore wind energy, a new report has warned.
A leading think-tank has accused Westminster of sending “weak and unclear signals” on the future of renewable energy and not doing enough to exploit the economic benefits of offshore wind.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) paper, which was published yesterday, said more needs to be done to bring down costs and secure jobs in the industry, if the UK is to avoid missing carbon reduction goals for 2020.
It calls for the government to use existing expertise in the onshore wind, oil and gas industries to maximise the potential of harnessing offshore wind.
While offshore wind energy could create large numbers of new jobs and help strengthen the economy, the IPPR report said the main challenges are the current high costs in comparison to nuclear or onshore wind energy, as well as a lack of UK-made components.
It said the government had backtracked on goals to secure 18 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2020, with just 4.4GW now expected to come online between 2020 and 2030.
This will result in the sector missing out on an extra 15,000 jobs that could be created in the next seven years, it added.
The UK’s current policy trajectory could see it achieving a “worst of all worlds” outcome: low volume, low jobs and high costs, warned Will Straw, associate director at IPPR.
“This would fail our climate challenge, our jobs challenge and our rebalancing challenge,” he added.
“Unless Britain pumps up the volume there is little prospect of either bringing down the costs of offshore wind or creating domestic jobs. An alternative pathway is possible, if the government can bring together an industrial strategy for the sector.
“The industry should be given the long-term clarity that it needs, and which has been provided in other countries.”
The Scottish Government has backed the report, saying it endorses calls by Scottish ministers to their UK counterparts to set a decarbonisation target now rather than waiting until 2016.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Unless the UK government acts now to address this issue, projects coming on to the system before 2020 are likely to be at high cost and there could well be an investment hiatus for projects coming on after 2020.
“As a result, the UK misses out on a real opportunity to maximise its offshore wind potential.”
Green MSP Patrick Harvie added: “This report highlights the mixed messages the UK government has been sending on energy, with regrettable consequences for Scotland.
“Offshore wind has enormous potential for Scottish jobs and emissions reduction, but the dithering we’ve seen from the coalition has hindered rather than helped the sector.”
A three-point strategy is required to create a strong domestic offshore wind supply chain, according to the report, which recommends that the UK government should attract turbine manufacturers, support export opportunities for UK firms and build on the strengths of other companies in the supply chain.