400,000 jobs are expected in the renewables industry by 2020, but Wales and England are falling behind Scotland and Northern Ireland in reducing emissions from electricity generation.

The figures come from the latest Energy Trends and the update to the Renewable Energy Roadmap published by DECC.

Although the headline UK total figures show a 27% increase in overall renewable electricity generated and a 40% increase in renewable electricity capacity over the last 12 months, they mask regional differences.

England increased its coal-fired generation once more, from 29.2% to 32.0% of all electricity generated, while Wales' proportion rose from 18.4% to 22.8%.

By contrast, in N. Ireland coal-fired generation fell by 6% and in Scotland by 8.6%. North of the border, renewables in 2011 powered 26.8% of electricity, compared to 6.2% in England and 7.9% in Wales.

The biggest growth for renewables is in offshore wind capacity, which has jumped 60% to 2.5 gigawatts, helping to put the UK on track to sourcing 15% of all energy (electricity, heat and transport) from renewable sources by 2020, including 30% of its electricity.

Ed Davey, energy and climate change secretary, said: “I am determined that we get ahead in the global race on renewables and build on the big-money investments we’ve seen this year”.

Energy minister John Hayes added: "I firmly believe that a diverse energy mix is the best way to ensure our energy security. It is extremely encouraging that we have made such positive steps on renewable energy as part of that mix.”

The Roadmap Update is clear that: “The coalition is committed to increasing the deployment of renewable energy across the UK”. It concludes that renewable energy has “a pivotal role to play in the UK energy mix”.

The roadmap also shows that in the last year the costs of many renewable technologies have fallen. For example, the cost of solar PV has fallen by 50%, with the technology now identified as a key technology.

It notes that, "under a central gas fuel price, the cheapest onshore wind is expected to become competitive with CCGT within the next few years".

Wind power's job creation

Jobs are being created around the country from the renewables push, with a bias towards the north of the UK. A total of 22,800 were created between 1 April 2011 and 31 July 2012. The Update foresees 400,000 working in green collar jobs by 2020.

According to UK Trade and Investment, renewable energy represented the largest source of inward investment in 2011/12 among advanced engineering and environmental technology sectors, and is the joint seventh largest sector in terms of the number of FDI projects to the UK recorded in 2011/12.

Companies are trying to source labour locally. 150 firms attended a recent 'Meet the Buyer' event held by County Durham firm Banks Renewables. The developer is to construct the Moor House and Lambs Hill wind farms in Durham, and Tata Steel has a new £2m Offshore Processing Centre in Hartlepool to produce sections of pipe that will be used to make foundations for offshore wind turbines. To supply cabling, JDR Cables has invested £30m in upgrading its Hartlepool factory, which employed 130 people.

In Scotland, 1700 jobs are due from new contracts with firms including Gamesa, AREVA and SSE, while in Wales, 300 jobs will be needed to construct Pen-y-Cymoedd wind farm.

In Northern Ireland, the Belfast shipyard has 75% of its capacity geared towards offshore renewables, with DONG Energy's £40m improvements to Belfast Harbour meaning that it can furnish offshore wind farms such as the one West of Duddon, which alone creates 450 jobs.

In Newcastle, OGN is building a facility to manufacture offshore wind turbine foundations that will create 700 jobs during operations and a further 100 during the construction, plus 200 more jobs in the regional supply chain.

In the North West, Camell Laird and Siemens are creating 940 jobs at Gwynt y Môr windfarm and the Renewable Energy Engineering Centre in Manchester, while further south and east, Dudgeon (560MW) and Centrica’s Race Bank (580MW) offshore wind farms will attract around £3bn of investment.

RenewableUK’s deputy chief executive Maf Smith said: “This is a clear vote of confidence from the Government. The Update is spot on – it highlights the sector’s dynamic growth and the healthy pipeline of wind, wave and tidal projects to come. It’s right to note that costs are falling steadily, so renewables will continue to offer even better value for money for all of us. This will help to stabilise the price of energy, providing a secure alternative to importing expensive fossil fuels.

“Renewables will be generating more of our electricity than nuclear power by 2016. By 2020, wind will be the biggest contributor of electricity to the UK apart from natural gas,″ he added. ″The blueprint for our low-carbon future is here for all to see, and get on board.”

Solar recognised

The solar industry also welcomed the Roadmap which, for the first time, recognises solar PV as a key technology. Non-domestic solar now requires less support than many other renewable technologies.

The roadmap does not set out the deployment pathways to 2020 by technology, as had been expected, but it does promise a dedicated strategy for solar PV next year, as well as one for community energy.

Renewable installations supported by Feed-in Tariffs now make up 10% of all renewable installed capacity, most of which is solar.

The Solar Trade Association's Paul Barwell said that the Roadmap shows that "solar PV will be a lot cheaper than CCS and nuclear in the 2020s. It’s therefore absolutely right that solar has its own dedicated strategy, as gas now has."

He added that the STA is concerned about the ability of independent generators to secure a decent market price for electricity under Electricity Market Reform.

The update also includes a feature on the National Energy Efficiency Data (NEED). This will be used alongside other evidence to help understand actual energy savings and how and why these differ from estimates.

Story: David Thorpe, News Editor.