Solar could bring 200,000 jobs to the UK by 2030 – but only with government backing


As it emerged the EU suffered job losses in its PV sector last year, industry groups have pressed the claims of solar to create employment in the U.K. in the wake of prime minister Theresa May’s pledge to aim for a net zero emission economy in the country by 2050.

Responding to yesterday’s announcement of the U.K.’s net zero ambition by calling on the government to spell out how the target would be achieved, Frans van den Heuvel, chief executive of PV developer Solarcentury accused the PM of underestimating the role solar can play in the nation’s decarbonization.

Today the Solarcentury boss spelled out what he believes is the true potential of U.K. solar.

Citing analysis carried out by Berlin-based non-profit Energy Watch Group and Finland’s Lappeenranta University of Technology, Van den Heuvel said solar can supply 200,000 new jobs in the U.K. – part of 1.5 million across Europe – and 80 GW of power generation capacity by 2030.

The chief executive of the London-based developer said the 13 GW of current installed capacity in Britain, in the form of 900 solar farms and 900,000 rooftop arrays, already supplies 4% of the nation’s electricity and that figure could rise to 20% over the next decade.

Raise the ambition

“While we welcome the government’s commitment to this target,” said Van den Heuvel this morning, in a statement referring to the net zero emissions ambition, “we need [policymakers] to fully embrace this change and build on momentum, not put the brakes on, removing all remaining policy barriers to put solar on a level playing field with all other energy generation technologies. As a country, we must act now to combat climate chaos. It’s simply too costly not to and it’s not a decision to be delayed.”

The figures supplied by the developer and its research partners are more than double existing forecasts for U.K. solar up to 2030 and exceed the commitment recently made by the U.K. opposition Labour party to install 35 GW of PV generation capacity by that date.

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“In the next two years alone Solarcentury will build as much new solar capacity as we have over the past 21 years,” said the CEO. “We recently built a solar farm in the Netherlands that is large enough to power 12,500 homes and we did it in just five months. No other energy generation technology can be deployed this quickly.”

EU shed solar jobs

Energy Watch Group, however, has been criticized by pv magazine in the past for blithely making predictions about how miners in the fossil fuel industry can simply be transformed into fully-skilled workers in the renewables sector.

The optimistic predictions for U.K. and European solar were outlined on the same day data from the International Renewable Energy Agency revealed a fall in solar sector employment in the EU last year.

The latest edition of the agency’s Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review showed employment in the clean energy sector rose globally last year, from 10.3 million jobs in 2017 to 11 million. The number of solar related jobs fell in China, Japan, the EU and the U.S. as more people gained employment linked to PV in India, Southeast Asia and Brazil.

Solar was still the biggest renewable energy employer worldwide, with around a third of the world’s clean energy workforce, ahead of biofuels, hydro and wind. Asia now accounts for around nine tenths of the world’s PV jobs, with 3 million people in work associated with the sector.

More renewables jobs were added last year in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, thanks to burgeoning solar panel manufacturing industries in those nations, some of it outsourced from China to get around protectionist policies from module importing nations including the U.S. and India.

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