There has long been a wind of promise attached to renewables, with each new development bringing with it the pledge of jobs for Scotland – but too often that has turned to disappointment. Such was the case when Seagreen awarded all of the contracts for manufacture of the jacket foundation structures to overseas companies, in the United Arab Emirates and China, rather than Burntisland Fabrications, or BiFab, the local yard – which later went into administration.
Too often it has seemed like the promise of jobs has been all too much hot wind. In 2010, for instance, the Scottish Government predicted there would be 28,000 jobs north of the Border in the offshore wind industry alone by 2020. However, a recent report published by Strathclyde University’s Fraser of Allander Institute published last month found Scotland supported 6,735 full-time jobs in offshore wind, whilst there were 27,000 jobs altogether in the wider renewable energy industry.
Is more disappointment likely to follow – or is there a way of ensuring more jobs to Scotland? Making The Switch, a report published this year by the Energy Transition Institute at Robert Gordon University, calculated the impact on employment in the north east could go either way. Jobs in the sector in the region could rise from current 45,000 to 54,000 with £17 million investment, but without such investment could fall significantly.
The report described the future shape of the energy workforce in the north-east and highlighted what its key author Professor Paul de Leeuw describes as a “win-win” scenario “if the region attracts levels of investment in renewables that match its status as the UK’s largest offshore energy hub.”
The report described how attracting £17 billion of additional renewables investment to the region between now and 2030 would sustain a workforce of 54,000 people. But more modest ambitions would have a negative impact on employment numbers in the industry – and that they could fall as low as 28,000 by the end of the decade if capital investment in local manufacturing fell short.
What will this mean for those working in offshore oil and gas today? Across the UK that is a workforce of 160,000, and the Making The Switch report states, “There is an opportunity for it to maintain a similar share of the projected UK workforce in 2030, when it is forecast to reach up to 200,000 if UK and Scottish energy transition ambitions are realised.”
Meanwhile, there is pressure already being placed on offshore wind developers to use more local supply chains. For instance, Crown Estate Scotland mandated applicants for the ScotWind seabed leases had to outline supply chain commitments and update them throughout the development.
Many of these outlines, however, remain vague, and few of these ScotWind projects have provided any estimates of how many jobs they will bring to Scotland – those that have being BP and ENBW (Energie Baden Wurttemberg), predicting 935 full-time direct and indirect jobs in Scotland, and Ocean Winds, which suggests 3,114. Strikingly, the BP/EnBW project, one of the biggest in terms of capacity, is set to deliver low total expenditure commitments to Scotland (17 per cent). Ocean Winds, though a smaller project in terms of capacity, as a percentage is delivering far more (48%).
Campaigners have called for more such projects – including community-owned developments – that bring bigger local benefits and more local jobs.
There is no doubt more jobs will come. But how many? The plan is for the UK to increase its offshore wind capacity from 11GW in 2022 to 50GW in 2030. To do this, according to Professor de Leeuw, the UK would have to install “the equivalent of four Seagreen projects and over 400 wind turbines every single year for the next eight years”.
This, he sees as an opportunity, as well as a challenge.
“With the north-east of Scotland already a global leader in the offshore energy pace, it is ideally positioned to play a leading role in accelerating the energy transition in Scotland and in the UK,” he said. “The unique combination of a highly skilled workforce, a world class supply chain, leading universities and colleges and a 50-year track record in the global oil and gas industry truly positions the region as a future global offshore energy powerhouse.”
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