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27/05/2014

Ground solar's great green growth potential

Solar farm

In March the BRE National Solar Centre (NSC) published a survey of jobs in the solar sector, concluding that one gigawatt of solar capacity installed in 2013 had led to an estimated 14,000 full-time equivalent jobs.

Debbie MarriageUnsurprisingly, the labour-intensive rooftop sector generates more 
(20 jobs/megawatts) than ground installations (7MW).
 
As a planning consultant delivering ground-mounted solar installations, I often hear criticism that a large solar farm can’t maintain jobs once the plant is operational. In solar’s defence, energy generation across the board is highly automated so it  doesn’t create the big levels of direct employment by turnover one expects in other sectors.
 
After all, the primary purpose of a power plant is to generate power. Sizewell B nuclear facility generates 1.18GW and employs 455 people, or 2.6MW per job. Drax coal-fired power station in North Yorkshire generates a huge 4GW of power, or 7 per cent of the country’s needs, but employs just 560 people.
 
The importance of the solar sector is really about supply chain economics. Solar farms require continual maintenance. While this is “as needed”, the Solar Trade Association’s Ten Commitments include “buying and employing locally as much as possible”. Local companies specialising in fencing and electrical maintenance can, and are, employed by solar companies in the UK to take on long-term site maintenance. 
 

"The important of the solar sector is really about supply chain economics"

 
Of course, solar farms will continue to employ people in the design and development stages for several years to come, as more solar farms are planned and built. This includes all those involved in the development pipeline, from land agents to civil engineering contractors and planning consultants.
 
And what of manufacturing? In March, 
Siemens said it is to build wind turbine production and installation facilities beside the Humber, creating 1,000 jobs. The UK is the fastest-growing market for utility scale solar, so can we similarly expand solar manufacturing? We are seeing a start. On 4 April, energy minister Gregory Barker opened SunSolar Energy’s new 75MW Birmingham production facility. The company produces photovoltaic modules and in-roof solar systems. This is innovative and advanced manufacturing.
 
The sector has great, green growth potential. The government’s 2020 target of 20GW of installed solar capacity will create opportunities for UK manufacturers, installers and all involved in developing pipelines. We just need to avoid the problems felt by the onshore wind sector.
 
Debbie Marriage is a senior consultant at Parker Dann Chartered Town Planning Consultants
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