THE future of the North Sea is worth 40,000 more jobs and £20bn to the UK economy by 2050 - through a clean energy revolution

A leading think tank report suggests that the net rise in jobs would come through diversifying to renewables and takes into account a long-term decline in the North Sea's oil and gas industry.

The think tank Policy Exchange says that the government must put the North Sea at the heart of its Net Zero strategy and calls for a new Minister for North Sea Development to take advantage of the opportunities.

They want to see payments from wind farm operators to local communities to ensure they benefit from hosting new infrastructure.

"As Saudi Arabia is to oil, the UK is to wind", is how Boris Johnson described the country's potential to capitalise on renewable energy recently.

READ MORE: Early tax relief plea to save North Sea jobs

It borrowed a commentary made nearly a decade ago when first minister, Alex Salmond said Scotland had the potential to be the "Saudi Arabia of renewables".

HeraldScotland: Alex Salmond

And the new report calls for a new strategy to develop the North Sea and to the exploitation of offshore wind, saying coastal regions such as those on the east coasts of England and Scotland are "ideally placed" to benefit from the coming renewable energy boom.

But it warned that to make the most of surges in investment in clean energy, "we must make sure that local people benefit from these new energy projects".

It added: "Importantly, if we do not set in place the right policies and public investments then the north east of England and the east coast of Scotland will suffer economically as oil and gas declines, while the UK will miss its Net Zero target."

Renewable energy was worth £3.3bn in added value to the Scottish economy in 2018, while oil and gas extraction from Scottish waters with the support industry around that was worth £11.6bn.

In terms of job about six times as many people are employed by the oil and gas sector. It supports about 110,000 jobs here.

In 2009, only 27.2% of Scotland's electricity came from renewable energy sources. But ten years later it was 90.1%.

The Scottish government has set a target of having the equivalent of 100% of Scotland's electricity demand coming from renewable energy sources by the end of 2020.

The nation has been shifted awary from burning fossil fuels, with the last coal-fired power station, Longannet, closing in 2016 and the only remaining gas-fired power station being at Peterhead in Aberdeenshire.

Hydrogen is seen as a versatile fuel capable of powering everything from household appliances to transport to industrial processes.

Respected Scottish think tank Common Weal predicted hydrogen itself will become a "large industry in Scotland with the potential to lead Europe and become its largest hydrogen exporter".

The Policy Exchange identified six priorities for developing the North Sea, including creating new support and funding for low-carbon technologies, including hydrogen, floating wind turbines and carbon capture and storage (CCUS).

It also wants more consistent and clearer environmental regulations.

New support and funding for low-carbon technologies, including hydrogen, and cross-border collaboration to "help the UK work with other countries" on joint projects such as interconnector cables after Brexit.

Will Nicolle, lead author of the paper, said: “The Prime Minister has said he wants the UK to be the ‘Saudi Arabia of wind power’. To achieve that, we’ll need a strategic approach in an increasingly crowded space. To reach Net Zero, we need new frameworks and funding for things like hydrogen and carbon capture.

"The North Sea is absolutely central to that whole mission. Our research shows there’s a huge prize in terms of new jobs and local economic development. This means that the North Sea could hold the key to Boris’ Levelling Up agenda too.”

Dan Roberts, director at Frontier Economics, which contributed to the report added: "Activities related to the North Sea will be critical to achieving Net Zero, and can also play a major role in driving future economic activity. We look forward to seeing government action in the areas highlighted by the report."

The Scottish government set an ambitious new target to increase its offshore wind capacity to power more than eight million homes.

The plan, revealed last week, will see hundreds of new wind turbines installed off the Scottish coast, and increase existing offshore capacity to 11 gigawatts (GW) by the end of the decade.

In addition to providing clean energy and helping the country hit net-zero emissions, the target will drive a “green recovery” from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with greater investment in the sector creating more jobs, the Scottish government said.

The capacity of Scotland's offshore wind production is currently 1GW and there are already developments underway to bring this up to 5.6GW.

Ben Miller, senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables, said the ambition set out by the Scottish government was a “milestone moment”, but warned “there is much work to do”, to hit the target.

Scotland's largest single wind source is said to be the Beatrice offshore wind farm. Its 84 turbines - each with three 75m (246ft) blades - went into operation last year andis capable of ge nerating enough power for 450,000 homes.