Offshore wind the future of Renewable Energy in the UK

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Industry experts reveal key drivers and issues surrounding the sector.

“The energy gap is looming” – Huw Irranca-Davies

23 May 2011, London – Offshore wind will be the key driver for growth in renewable energy, but skills shortages and lack of investment threaten to stop the sector in its tracks, according to a panel of high-level energy sector experts including Shadow Energy Minister, Huw Irranca-Davies, and chairman of the Environment Agency, Lord Smith.

The panel, which also included EU MD of E.On Renewables, Michael Lewis, and co-Founder of clean technology investment firm WHEB Partners, Ben Goldsmith, agreed that whilst the UK does not have an energy crisis, the government must “plan very rapidly to avoid one”. Only 3% of energy consumed currently comes from renewables, but the government target of 15% by 2020 means the UK “must use every form of renewable energy conceivable”.

Shadow Energy Minister Huw Irranca-Davies commented: “I think we do have a cross-party consensus, that we can use to put certainty into the market that we will drive investment in, and fill that energy gap before we do have a crisis.”

“The only way [smaller renewable energy projects] will get built is if the asset class becomes institutionally credible, and at the moment it’s not,” said Ben Goldsmith, Founding Partner at WHEB Partners. “That’s the challenge – to deliver great returns.”

The skills shortage was identified as a major obstacle to meeting renewable targets. The panel’s suggestions for future planning include more sector engagement with schoolchildren at secondary level, promoting technology and science subjects, and in turn, the energy sector as a secure, long-term, well-paid career path.

“Anywhere between 80-100,000 jobs will be created by offshore wind alone; that’s before you even consider massive construction projects for nuclear energy,” comments David Spencer-Percival, Managing Director of Spencer Ogden.

Nuclear, solar, onshore wind and shale gas were also considered; Lord Smith, Chairman of the Environment Agency, claimed: “Renewables and nuclear both need to be part of the picture – if you’d asked me 15 years ago I’d have said no to nuclear power, largely because of all the waste issues. But climate change has made a realist of me”

A white paper of the discussion is available, and a video can be viewed here.

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