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Clean energy jobs growth slows as Westminster policy ‘bonfire’ hits home

The growth of jobs in the UK’s clean energy sector has slowed, according to the Renewable Energy Association (REA), which has placed the blame firmly on policy instability in Westminster.

The trade association’s annual ‘REView’ report, published this week, claims that a total of 125,490 jobs were recorded in the UK’s domestic renewable power, heat and transport sector in the 2015/16 reporting period.

The two largest employers within clean energy remained wind and solar, which employed 41,766 and 13,687 people throughout their respective supply chain.

But while this figure had grown roughly 2.5% year-on-year, the sector’s growth has slowed on prior years which recorded annual surges in jobs number closer to 10%.

The REA said this was firmly the consequence of a “bonfire of policies” which started in 2015 when the Conservative Party swept to a majority government in that year’s general election.

Nina Skorupska, chief executive at the REA, said that while the jobs figures demonstrated “real progress” in the sector, it was “deeply frustrating” that the growth could have been higher still.

“Policy instability in Westminster has slowed growth. Our member companies are helping build a system that is reliable, low-carbon and more affordable than the previous one.

“There’s fierce competition to be at the fore of these new technologies internationally. Government action is needed to ensure the opportunity to be leaders in technologies such as energy storage and decentralised systems does not slip between our fingers,” Skorupska added.

Commenting on the report, former energy minister Baroness Verma had a warning for Theresa May’s government when it returns from parliamentary recess in September.

“The incoming UK government must remain committed to supporting clean technology development and the renewable energy sector. They must remain absolutely in support of the Paris Accord and show leadership on the world stage. There must be no weakening of UK resolve by our politicians and we must show that unlike others when we make a commitment we stick to it,” she said.

The UK’s solar industry has been demonstrably hardest hit by government policy actions. A fall in the number of companies active in the clean energy space has been attributed to significant cuts to subsidy support for solar PV, and the number of people employed in solar has fallen.

REA figures from 2014/15 showed a high of 16,880 people employed in the solar supply chain, but this has now fallen to 13,687. Meanwhile the number of companies active in UK solar has nearly halved year-on-year from 2,005 in 2014/15 to 1,241 in 2015/16.

The government’s retraction of support from solar and other renewable technologies comes despite the sector’s surging revenues, which have long been identified as a potentially significant stream of tax revenue for HMG.

Renewable industry turnover topped £17.4 billion in 2015/16 – a sequential increase of 3.5% - and this could continue to surge if the energy storage and electric vehicle industries, included in the REA’s report for the first time, grow as expected.

More than 16,000 jobs in storage and EVs were detected by the REA in the sectors’ first year of inclusion.