Offshore renewables could boost the economy by almost £6.7bn and help support 150,000 jobs by 2020, a new report has found.
This was the most optimistic prediction made by the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, a UK body designed to supporting innovation and rapid commercialisation offshore wind, wave and tidal technologies, and represented what could be achieved if the industry was put on an accelerated growth path.
A more conservative estimate showed that if growth in offshore renewables was more gradual the sector could be worth £2.3bn to the economy by 2020, supporting 50,000 jobs.
The first scenario would see total capacity of wind power projects in UK waters reaching 15GW by 2020, with 34,000 people employed directly in the industry, while the second would see installed capacity reach 8GW over the same period.
ORE Catapult chief executive Andrew Jamieson said: "The UK is in a strong position today, leading the world in both deployment and ambition for offshore renewable energy. We have the industrial base, research capability, regulatory framework and supply chain to continue to prosper and lead.
"This report clearly demonstrates the significant potential economic value of offshore renewables and why it is worth the investment now to develop and grow sustainable industries delivering energy from our offshore natural resources."
Offshore wind power provided 3.6 per cent of the UK's electricity supply in 2013, contributing £1bn to the economy and supporting 20,000 jobs, including 5,000 in the sector itself, but the report said that could increase dramatically in the next six years.
"In the 15GW accelerated growth path scenario for offshore wind, where UK companies seize the opportunity and innovate collaboratively, GVA (gross value added) can reach almost £6.7bn in 2020, supporting 34,000 direct jobs and 150,000 jobs in total," the research said.
This could see turbine manufacturing worth £2.1bn to the UK by then, while operations and maintenance work could contribute £1.4bn to the economy, according to the report.
Under the "gradual growth path to 8GW installed in 2020, GVA can reach £2.3bn in 2020, with just under 12,000 direct jobs and 50,000 jobs supported in total".
The report added that by developing an "internationally competitive offshore renewable energy industry, the UK will benefit from investment in strategically important technologies and markets, economic diversification, increased international trade and greater economic competitiveness".
It also said the economic benefits of a larger offshore renewables sector could be spread throughout the country.
"The UK economic benefits generated in terms of wealth and employment creation will not be concentrated in one or two regions but will be dispersed across many local economies in the UK," it stated. "This distribution of economic benefits will promote regional growth and greater economic parity across regions."
Jennifer Webber, of the industry body RenewableUK, said the report "makes a cast-iron case for maximum political support and investment in the offshore wind and marine energy sector".
Webber said that the potential "jobs and the UK-wide economic reboot" highlighted in the report "won't happen to the full unless Government policy is 100 per cent supportive".
She said: "To make the most of our world-beating resources, the offshore renewables sector needs certainty on policy, with Government standing four-square behind us to achieve growth at a brisk pace. We can't risk confidence melting away, or other European countries will leap in and grab as many of the manufacturing opportunities as they can.
"In particular, we're hoping the Chancellor George Osborne will make his support clear in his Budget Speech next week."