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UK low carbon economy grew in 2017 despite continued solar, onshore wind contractions

Image: Heineken.

Image: Heineken.

The low carbon and renewables economy posted strong growth in 2017, but onshore wind and solar PV continued to be beset by a retraction of government support.

Earlier this week the government’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) released its final results of the low carbon and renewable energy (LCRE) survey for the year 2017, compiling direct and indirect activity as well as employment and turnover figures.

Its statistics placed LCRE turnover for the 2017 calendar year to have amounted to £44.5 billion, up 6.8% year-on-year.

Employment in the sector remained stable at around 209,000 full time employees.

But despite the overall growth, continued contractions of the solar and onshore wind markets were blots on the renewables copybook.

In total, renewable energies amount to around one-third of the entire low carbon economy, equivalent to around £15.3 billion of turnover in 2017 and up 10% year-on-year.

But this growth was principally driven by the offshore wind sector, as onshore wind and solar continued to struggle amidst regulatory setbacks set into motion by the newly-elected Conservative government in 2015.

Employment in the onshore wind sector fell by more than a third – 35.3% - over the course of 2017 to 5,300 full time employees, while full time employment in the solar sector continued to tumble, this time by nearly 10% to 4,700 employees.

In its 2015 heyday, the ONS placed the number of full time employees involved in the solar sector at around 16,000, with turnover amounting to more than £7 billion.

But just two years later, solar sector turnover had fallen to £1.5 billion.

Nevertheless, the growth of the overall LCRE economy was representative of a continued shift towards decarbonised power supplies and Lawrence Slade, chief executive at trade body Energy UK, said the figures underlined the energy sector’s success in driving decarbonisation.

“The UK has been a world leader in cutting emissions and decarbonising our economy, however we must go further and faster if we are to meet our climate change targets and therefore we must be able to fully realise the benefits from lowest cost renewables, including onshore wind and solar," he said.

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