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Scotland must act or wind energy boon will pass us by

Much has been written about the possible creation of many new jobs in engineering based on the renewables investment that the Government is making in Scotland.

OPPORTUNITY: Dr Derek Shepherd says UK firms must meet the challenge to become component suppliers in the growing rush to renewable energy. Main picture:  Getty Images
OPPORTUNITY: Dr Derek Shepherd says UK firms must meet the challenge to become component suppliers in the growing rush to renewable energy. Main picture: Getty Images

That potential is certainly there but only if the wind energy supply chain  includes real Scottish manufacturers of components such as the tower structure, the gear box, generator and electrics etc.

However, although many wind turbine farms are planned to be constructed offshore at this point in time, they will be using mainly foreign technology and the supply chain will be using non-UK components.

Yes, during the construction  of these offshore wind farms there will be jobs created but generally low-level construction and logistics roles, and only for a few years during construction, not manufacturing jobs with high skill levels offering long-term job prospects for graduates .

It is all fine attracting foreign firms to invest as wind farm developers in the promised offshore wind boom, but companies such as Siemens of Germany will bring its own technology and all components

They will be keeping their factories busy and training and employing their skilled engineers for the long-term task of maintenance thereafter.

They will use that skill base in their factories to follow new export markets overseas in Asia, Africa and South America, with even more jobs in high-quality manufacturing and developing new technologies for other forms of energy generation.

It is said that “we are in an energy Wimbledon in which Britain provides all the venues , broadcasting and the referees but most of the players are foreign”.

Just look at France and the general bias towards local French content.

At the time of writing, only French-built turbines have won offshore contracts so far in French markets, and thus the French have been investing heavily in expanding their manufacturing plants. In general ,job creation has to be weighted.

Jobs created in a company that temporarily moves to  Scotland are of much less value compared with those home grown and permanent .

There is a lot of publicity about infrastructure jobs – like for example, the new Forth crossing – but these will melt like snow off a dyke when the bridge is finished and the contractor takes their expertise elsewhere and all the construction management jobs go too.

That does not create long-term employment , training and skills that bring wealth over many years .

My concern is that the only jobs created in Scotland will support base employees to receive components from foreign manufacturers, assemble them and position them offshore.

Once constructed these jobs will go leaving only maintenance roles controlled by the turbine manufacturer and its supply chain .

It is a real challenge for UK engineering companies to enter this market and supply key components rather than only some offshore civil engineering and logistics, much of which is available through the already  established  offshore oil and gas industry in Aberdeen, which has been building offshore platforms and maintaining them for years.

If we seriously aspire to be a global player in wind energy with our own technology and engineering skills we must quickly do something very different or the opportunity will pass us by.

The Government must bring together all the best skilled engineering companies in this country and support a “made in UK Wind Turbine” thus putting UK engineering back in the driving seat not the back seat  of the future wind energy markets .

Derek Shepherd, formerly of Aggreko, is a non-executive at businesses across Scotland including NGenTec and  Edinburgh Instruments.

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