The Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change, Greg Barker, today launched the Renewable Energy Association’s (REA) landmark paper, ‘Renewable energy: Made in Britain’, the first to attempt to accurately detail the renewables landscape in Britain.

The wide-ranging, 57-page report shows that the renewable energy sector and its supply chain currently employ 110,000 people across the UK and, should we meet our legally-binding EU emission targets, REA estimates that over 400,000 jobs would be created, generating a turnover close to £50 billion.

The report notes that solar power had by far the largest growth rate of all renewables, growing 56 percent from 2009-2010, before experiencing stratospheric growth in 2010-2011, which the REA estimates stood at 280 percent. The REA further claims that the UK solar industry currently supports 25,000 jobs across the supply chain and will turnover £5.4 billion during 2011/12.

REA identifies solar as having “the largest technical potential of all energy sources”, after delivering a consistent 20 percent plus reduction with every doubling of capacity. The paper also highlights that studies from mainstream analysts such as Ernst & Young, IEA and the German Government, have all predicted that solar PV will deliver cheaper power than retail prices for grid electricity before 2020, in nearly all applications. 

Yet although the outlook for global solar remains positive, the report warns that “despite proving itself, the outlook for domestic solar power remains worrying this year, largely because of its continued constraint under a Treasury-imposed spending cap.” The report later goes on to describe the spending caps on small-scale feed-in tariffs as “illogical and inflexible” and calls for it to be removed completely.

Launching the report, Greg Barker reinforced his belief in investing in UK-based renewable manufacturing, building on its long-held reputation for engineering expertise.

“The whole drive to renewables fundamentally cannot be sustained if we don’t manufacture more, here in Britain. Regardless of which political party is in power, ultimately we cannot continue to take subsidy from the consumer if the only justification is carbon,” he explained.

“The reason in Germany that you see so much buy-in and support for their renewables isn’t just because they are environmentally conscious but because the German public see the tangible benefit to the economy because so much more of their infrastructure, the engineering, is not just developed and deployed in the country but actually made there too. We need to get a share of that market.”

REA’s report champions Durham-based manufacturer Romag as a perfect example of the Minister’s ambitions in practice. Romag recently signed a partnership agreement with LDK to supply, research, develop and design PV products and raw materials. Such a deal illustrates the incredible potential of commercial partnerships with established Chinese manufacturers to create innovative products for both the domestic market and also the export market.  

Barker continued: “Let’s not forget that last year, the single biggest brake on economic growth as we push out of recession, wasn’t anything domestic, actually it was the 35 percent increase on the price of imported wholesale gas.”

“It is vitally important that we recognise the ability of the renewable sector to generate hundreds of thousands of jobs and be a key sector for growth in the British economy and also not be just an engine for recovery from recession but also a key element in terms of our ambition to rebalance our economy.”

Barker concluded: “The re-industrialisation of the economy is totally compatible with a low-carbon future”

REA’s report robustly outlines the current success story of renewables in the UK. The nascent industry has provided growth, jobs and opportunity amidst a wider economy doing the opposite. In spite of the catastrophic handling of cuts to the solar feed-in tariff, the UK solar market has delivered phenomenal growth and installed a staggering level of capacity.

Looking forward, the report reinforces the point that the case for embracing renewables is becoming too strong for even the most vocal anti-renewable opponents to ignore; quite simply, renewables are getting cheaper and fossil fuels are getting more expensive.