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BLOG: Proving our worth - the figures and faces which make renewables

Posted on 11/06/2018 by Nick Sharpe

In the run up to World War I, Glasgow’s shipyards employed 70,000 people.

Lives were entwined with industry and demonstrating its impact on the city was simple – workers lived close to the yards and spent their time (and money) locally.

Demonstrating the impact of our industry – renewable energy – is more complicated.

Ours is an entirely new system which isn’t based around old, centralised power plants.

Some components are manufactured abroad, but much of the value in renewables (beyond clean energy) are in the exportable, in-demand skills needed to develop and, crucially, maintain sites through their lifetimes.

Renewables is a more geographically-dispersed, dynamic and flexible generation system, and showing its impact (without becoming mired in spreadsheets, maps and charts) is a challenge.

But it’s a challenge we’re trying to overcome.

A new publication, Onshore Wind: Investing in Scotland’s Energy Future, was launched today.

In it we’ve drawn out some of the hidden faces of onshore wind in Scotland and attempted to clarify the enormous benefits of this £1.5 billion-a-year, 8,000-employee sector.

The mood music around onshore wind has shifted in recent years:

  • Growing popularity with a public which increasingly understands the dangers of climate change.
  • Falling costs, driven by larger, more efficient turbines.
  • A maturing supply chain able to make the most out of every opportunity while delivering higher-quality projects.

While Scottish Renewables wanted to record those enormously positive shifts, it was the stories behind the stats which really resonated.

The tens of thousands of visitors who flock to ScottishPower Renewables’ Whitelee Wind Farm every year won’t see armies of workers clocking in each morning.

But these sites are creating employment in a different way.

Lawyers, planners, consultants, analysts: traditional roles sustained by cutting-edge technology.

And, supporting them, technicians skilled in using drones, AI, robotics, Big Data – harnessing new skills honed at the leading edge of a new industry.

Some examples, taken from our new document:

Simon Robinson, Founder of financial consultancy Snell Bridge: “Onshore wind is ideal for our clients: there are many project opportunities in Scotland; projects can be sized according to local requirements; and it is among the cheapest forms of electricity generation available.”

Mark McRae, Director at Martin Aitken & Co (Glasgow): “One thing is certain: the need for renewable energy is only going to accelerate.

“New technology and the right financial support will allow new modern onshore wind to flourish and play an important part of our energy mix going forward, creating commercial opportunities for those who adapt and push ahead with well-planned and structured development projects.”

And Jim Steele, Managing Director of Morrison Construction (Scottish Borders): “At Morrison Construction we take great pride in our achievements as a business and in particular the fact that we have been involved in the delivery of onshore wind power for around 15 years.

“During this time we have built up a knowledge and expertise in the delivery of the associated infrastructure required to complete the many wind farms helping Scotland meet its carbon targets. During this journey we have created jobs and a level of skill unsurpassed in our industry.”

Case studies like these show the depth of talent in onshore wind – but it’s not talent a visitor to a wind farm would ever appreciate existed.

So while the headline figures (7.4GW, £3 billion-a-year, 8,000 jobs…) are impressive, it’s worthwhile looking more deeply for the real story behind onshore wind.

  • There’ll be more chances to do so as we celebrate the UK’s first Onshore Wind Week (June 11-15, 2018), and at Scottish Renewables Onshore Wind Conference, which takes place in Glasgow tomorrow (June 12).

Nick Sharpe

Director of Communications