Britain is failing to make the most of the opportunity to become a world leader in offshore wind energy, a new report from an influential think tank has warned.
The Westminster Government is also accused of sending weak and unclear signals on renewables which could leave the industry with high costs but few jobs.
In particular there has been a failure to attract turbine manufacturers, the left-leaning Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) found in its report.
Environmentalists say it underlines the need for the Scottish Government to do what it can to get firms to locate north of the Border.
The report says the UK has ideal building conditions, with large areas of seabed in shallow waters, close to shore, but warns the Government is not doing enough to bring down costs and secure domestic jobs in offshore wind.
It says the Government has backtracked on its ambition to secure 18 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind by 2020 and expects just 4.4GW to come online between 2020 and 2030.
It adds that the industry risks missing out on an extra 15,000 jobs that could be created by 2020 and that the UK Government needs to attract at least two turbine manufacturers, preferably more.
The report says that, while failure to do so would not be fatal to the prospect of a strong domestic supply chain, success would be a boost. This is because these firms are able to attract a cluster of other companies further down the supply chain, like in Denmark.
Will Straw, associate director at IPPR, said: “The UK’s current policy trajectory could see it achieving the worst of all worlds: low volume, low jobs, and high costs.
“Unless Britain pumps up the volume there is little prospect of either bringing down the costs of offshore wind or creating domestic jobs.”
He said an alternative strategy for the sector was needed based on carrots and sticks.
A 2030 target for renewables in the power sector is a necessary condition, as are long-term 20 year contracts, he claims. But he said developers must be expected to drive down costs with the correct subsidy regime, and do more to provide apprenticeships and sponsor university and further education courses.
A Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) spokeswoman said: “Offshore wind, built in the right place, is an important contributor to our energy mix and we expect to see more capacity built through to 2020 and beyond.
“We have provided certainty to offshore wind investors by confirming the level of support available under the Renewables Obligation and, earlier than expected, publishing draft strike prices for contracts in the future electricity market.”
She said the ranges set out were not targets but indicative estimates of the contribution offshore wind could make and added: “We are continually enhancing our understanding of each sector’s potential in the context of likely demand.
WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said the report was a shot across the bows of the Coalition. He added: “It also reinforces the need for Scottish Ministers to do all they can to encourage turbine manufacturers to locate here and capitalise on the existing offshore oil and gas expertise in Aberdeen and the north of Scotland.”
He said studies estimated Scotland’s offshore wind industry could create 28,000 jobs by 2020 and contribute over £7 billion of investment to the economy.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “This report further endorses the call by Scottish Ministers to their UK counterparts urging them to set a decarbonisation target now rather than waiting until 2016.
“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 and as a result the UK misses out on a real opportunity to maximise its offshore wind potential.”
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