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Renewable UK 2014 - Manchester

Renewable UK 2014 - Manchester

Billed and recognised as the UK’s premier renewable energy event, a team from Burness Paull were in attendance at Renewable UK in Manchester last week. The flagship event covering onshore and offshore wind, wave & tidal energy and small & medium wind systems was attended by around 4,500 delegates, housed 250 exhibitors and heard from around 190 speakers.

The conference came at an interesting time for the industry – it is a time to reflect on the success and advancements made to date and the implementation of electricity market reform, but it is also the time to note the challenges and political battles that will arise as we head towards a general election in the summer of 2015. It could be said that there was more than a hint of “electioneering” in the keynote address of the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, the Rt Hon Edward Davey MP...

Welcome success

The conference is a good time to take stock of the previous 12 months, and provides an opportunity for the industry to congratulate itself on its success in the same period. This was evident in Renewable UK’s 2014 state of the industry report (published at the conference) which confirmed that the UK wind energy sector had grown by almost 15% over the past year and now employs a record number of people – this, despite intensifying political opposition in the UK.

In terms of new capacity, it was confirmed that around 1.1GW came online at onshore sites across the UK in the past 12 months, bringing the nation’s total installed wind capacity to 11,183MW. Offshore wind contributed an additional 332MW, but it is important to note that there is 1.4GW currently under construction – this will come into operation in late 2014 and early 2015. Renewable UK also confirmed that the number of people directly employed in the wind industry now stands at 15,400 – this figure taken across a range of professions, including development, manufacturing, construction and operation - and that more than 2,250 direct and indirect wind jobs were created in the past 12 months.

Despite this success and the continued trajectory of the industry, the report is tempered by reference to “increased political resistance” which serves to undermine industry expectations and ambition.

Politics of renewables

In his keynote address, the Secretary of State took the time to welcome the success of the industry. There were also constructive announcements in respect of ensuring that a positive message about renewable energy is made more public – for example, how many people outside the conference are aware that onshore wind is the cheapest large-scale renewable? In addition, it was revealed that MHI-Vestas plan to invest £200 million into the UK and to set up a blade manufacturing facility on the Isle of Wight by leasing Vestas’ facility there.

However, the keynote address was also used to address the political uncertainty which unsettles the industry. The Secretary of State made reference to the Conservative party’s “ideological” opposition to onshore turbines and contended that this was undermining new British jobs and driving up customer bills. He added that while “it is right that some [renewable projects] are turned down” because they are not appropriately sited, some political voices are “driven by less honourable motives”.
The Secretary of State also made reference to the “politics of renewables” – a battle that the industry must win through a coalition for renewables across the major political parties ahead of the general election in May, and a result that will allow for the deployment and advancement of renewable technologies to continue.

With his address, battle lines are being drawn in what appeared to be a thinly veiled attack by the Secretary of State on his coalition partner. As we move into 2015, the debate will certainly intensify and energy policy will remain high on the political agenda. As is the case following almost all annual energy conferences in the UK, the message remains the same – progress is certainly being made and it’s an exciting time for the industry, but the challenges still remain and there is a lot of work to do. The Secretary of State and Renewable UK’s presentations made this abundantly clear once again.

Peter Ward
Senior Associate