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Opinion

Renewable energy can bring a bonanza of good jobs and support levelling up

The transition to renewable energy would tackle the cost of living crisis, address levelling up, and cut our reliance of Russian fossil fuels, writes Green Alliance head of economy Sam Alvis.

Britain has a jobs crisis – just not the one we were expecting. When the pandemic struck, the government and commentators were rightly concerned about rising unemployment with hundreds of people applying for low paid jobs.

Businesses forced to close would lay off staff, who in lockdown would have no prospect of finding new work. But the creation of the furlough scheme and business support loans stemmed the tide. Unemployment by the end of 2021 was lower than before the pandemic.

Coming out of the pandemic what we saw instead was a surge in demand, both for goods and services. There was a real need for workers to fill new roles, but employers struggled to hire and vacancies reached a record high.

Although the unemployment rate is low, our under employment is high – many people are working infrequently or insecurely with fewer hours than they want, while many are not working who could.

As energy bills and food prices rise people need an economy that offers more secure and skilled work over temporary or uncertain futures. Financial security is the order of the day, and one that prospective candidates for prime minister should pay heed to.

The energy sector has long been associated with these kind of opportunities. The cost of living crisis, however, born out of a surge in gas and oil prices, is stepping up the urgency we need to move away from volatile fossil fuels. There are rightly concerns over what this means for those working in the industry, but new Green Alliance analysis shows the transition to green energy, such as solar and wind power, has even greater potential to create good and secure work for people.

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Shifting to renewable energy faster will provide the secure, skilled work people need. In fact, our analysis shows that low carbon energy supports three times more secure work compared with gas, with solar and offshore wind up to five times higher.

What is crucial though is access to work. While the government’s energy security strategy announced this spring will grow skilled work, its reliance on nuclear and offshore wind will concentrate jobs in the south -east and south-west. A great emphasis on onshore wind and solar would mean skilled work created more evenly across all regions and nations of the UK, rather than concentrated in the south.

And while skilled work is the end goal as it brings higher pay, the expansion of renewable energy also offers a route into employment for those yet to acquire the skills. We need a burst of manufacturing and construction that could offer routes into longer term careers in maintenance, management or development in green energy.

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One happy side effect of government planning for rising unemployment is that there is a pool of unspent money in the Treasury’s Plan for Jobs. Using some of this to help reskill and upskill workers in the power sector will be vital. Every region will need to grow its power workforce, the West Midlands by 415 per cent.

The state of the economy and people’s role in it will be a huge challenge for any incoming prime minister. Before reaching for solutions they will need to correctly diagnose the problems. There are so many reasons to transition to renewable energy, including the need to reduce the cost of living, cut our reliance on Russian fossil fuels and for the government to address regional inequality across the UK.

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