Scotland doesn’t need more press releases but we need a plan
A report from Robert Gordon University grabbed the headlines with enthusiasm. By 2030, he predicted that â€œthe composition of the offshore energy workforce would change, with over 65% of the workforce expected to support low-carbon energy activitiesâ€.
These are titles that are currently appealing to politicians. The underlying message is that oil and gas, which has gone from being economic saviors to political outcasts in a remarkably short span of time, is on the way out as green technologies try to take their place, jobs intact.
Proceed with caution, however, as RGU’s offshore energy transferability review contains heroic assumptions while the caveats have been under-stated. The point is, most of those 200,000 jobs that “are likely to be needed in 2030” depend on political actions and investment decisions that have not been made.
According to RGU, the magic number of 200,000 jobs will break down into 90,000 supporting offshore wind, 70,000 in oil and gas and another 40,000 in â€œother offshore energy projects and clustersâ€. What could be simpler ?
Given the failure so far, particularly in Scotland, to turn wind power into investment or jobs, the assumptions in these numbers are startling. Ninety thousand offshore wind jobs? By 2030? I think someone better move on.
The report cites an estimate of Â£ 170 billion to be invested in capital and operating activities in the UK offshore energy sector between 2021 and 2030 “including in oil and gas, offshore wind, CCUS and hydrogen “. This will create â€œa lot of opportunities for the energy supply chain. It will also protect and create new highly skilled jobs in these sectors â€.
Well quite true. It would be difficult to spend Â£ 170 billion without creating a lot of jobs. The inclusion of oil and gas in this mix provides assurance that at least a substantial proportion of this global number will continue to create jobs, especially in north-east Scotland – unless, of course, that the Scottish Greens don’t get what they want and get to kill it all off.
However, the rest is a little less certain. Investment in offshore wind between 2021-2030, according to the RGU report, “is estimated at over Â£ 70 billion, which is expected to create more than 60,000 new jobs across the UK”. The words ‘across the UK’ are important and should be noted with particular interest in the North East. The change planned by RGU in the â€œoffshore energy workforce mixâ€ will be geographic as well as sectoral.
To be brutal, the part of the 70 billion pounds that remains in the United Kingdom will depend on the United Kingdom’s willingness to pull itself together and the part that will pass through Scotland will similarly depend on the mobilization of the United Kingdom. Scotland, in the public and private sectors. No number of reports or projections will replace action that is still insufficient.
Massive investments in ports and infrastructure will be needed to meet the challenges ahead. Has anyone quantified the extent of what is required or how it is to be achieved? Has anyone used comparators with the countries that Scotland and the rest of the UK will be competing against for material that will end up in our own waters?
What are our ambitions? What can we realistically do here and therefore twist the arms of the developers by all the fiscal means at our disposal to make this happen? These are questions that were never asked or answered before the onshore wind market escaped us and it would be reassuring to know that they are being asked now.
Of course, good things are happening. Forth Ports’ announcement of its intention to ‘create Scotland’s largest renewable energy hub on a 175 acre site in Leith’ is welcome.
The Â£ 40million investment, they say, “will see the creation of a bespoke riverside berth capable of accommodating the world’s largest offshore wind installation vessels.” It’s the kind of thing we need – and it should have happened a decade ago.
So take a look at what’s going on in Hull which, make no mistake, will be a competitor for offshore work. While Scotland slept or issued press releases on Saudi Arabia of renewables, Hull was more modestly turning into the Aberdeen of renewables.
â€œGreen Port Hull has placed the region on the global stage for green energy innovation and offshore wind growth,â€ they proclaim. â€œThe city’s Â£ 3bn public and private sector investment includes the Â£ 310m Siemens Gamesa world-class wind turbine blade manufacturing facility, which contributes Â£ 73m sterling to the local economy, creating more than a thousand jobs.
â€œHull has also seen supply chain investments from 3Sun Group, TRG Wind, GEV Offshore, Eltronic Wind Solutions, Scanel International, ALE and A2Sea. Renewable energy company Orsted is investing Â£ 6bn in offshore wind operations on the east coast, with contracts awarded to Siemens Gamesa for the supply of turbines for two huge offshore wind farms â€.
Big numbers and heady stuff that took years to develop. The Siemens factory – which in the past, when we were serious about chasing foreign investment, could very well have come to Scotland – is the just reward for this sustained commitment.
Scotland doesn’t need more press releases, but we need a plan. As the RGU review points out, there must be close cooperation with the UK government. We need to define the ambitions, where they need to be focused, and the scale of investment needed to turn the headlines into reality.
In the meantime, oil and gas remain the birds in hand. Only fools and pious and counterproductive Greens would reject them lightly.
Brian Wilson is a former UK Energy Minister
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