tom hopkinson

Coalition’s indecision could suffocate offshore wind in its infancy

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In his second article, Renewable Energy Magazine's first ever blogger, Tom Hopkinson, exlores how the UK government's indecision regarding policy could stymy offshore wind industry growth.
Coalition’s indecision could suffocate offshore wind in its infancy

Building value into the UK renewable energy sector resulting in investment, jobs and prospects for the next generation requires bold policy decisions to be made by this government. The Committee on Climate Change’s ‘Renewable Energy Market Review’ published this month reflects a lack of direction and commitment that could suffocate the offshore wind industry in its infancy.

The report uses language, such as, “the precise level of appropriate ambition will become clear over time.” We do not have the luxury of time politically, environmentally or practically. Someone needs to take ownership and leadership on this issue and make the long-term decisions on where we invest this country’s resources, talents and energy to halt catastrophic climate change, and keep the lights on.

Last week Vestas announced 2,000 jobs will be created in the UK at their new blade factory for offshore wind turbines. However, it came with a caveat – “policy uncertainty may kill it off.” This report does nothing to indicate that certainty is coming, “[t]he likely scale of investment in the less mature renewable technologies (e.g. offshore wind, marine) during the 2020s is very uncertain. This reflects […] the lack of policy commitment to providing support for new investments beyond 2020.”

If this coalition government does not put their eggs in their chosen baskets today they will rob the UK of the biggest industrial, economic opportunity for many decades. We also risk missing out on thousands of jobs opportunities in regions of the UK that desperately need them.

Certainty and stability is also needed today to ensure that, should we fulfil our huge potential, we have the workforce capable of creating, growing and sustaining the sector safely and efficiently for tomorrow.

The lingering uncertainty that this report demonstrates will turn many graduates off renewables. Why commit your academic and professional career to something that under currently policy may or may not provide the long term career prospects you desire? Without an adequate influx of new graduates, the skills required for the boom in offshore wind will be hard to come by. We may even have to import skills from our European neighbours, stifling employment opportunities for home grown talent.

Those determined to enter the wind sector are already finding it difficult to find employment due to this government’s lack of commitment and indecision on policy. Some of those who have managed to get into the sector are already leaving because the opportunities that they crave are not coming quick enough. It’s not just about attracting talent it’s about nurturing it once it’s embedded in the sector. Adam Lord, a masters engineering graduate with experience of an internship in the wind sector “found it remarkably hard to get a position.” He reflects on his experience and wonders, “what about the graduates without internship experience and who aren’t proactive? I think we are a long way from attracting undecided graduates to the sector.” Policy uncertainty only adds to the widely held perception that there is both a lack of opportunity and long term prospects in the renewable energy sector.

I implore the coalition government to set ambitious targets for offshore wind in the UK up to and even beyond 2030, and as soon as possible. This will allow the UK to encourage the likes of Siemens Wind Power and other major players to recruit large workforces in the UK; it will enable our students to make decisions about their academic careers that will equip them for the industry; it will encourage private training providers and academic institutions to make the necessary investments in industry specific courses, that in turn enable the likes of Siemens, Vestas, Gamesa, Mitsubishi and others to roll out their UK operations wholesale.

I believe that clarity on long term policy to 2050 is the only way we can guarantee to close the deals currently on the table and set this industry on a healthy growth path. We are currently being held back by uncertainty and doubt, and this is suffocating and damaging the industry’s long term prospects.

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