Wind energy is much more popular than its opponents would have you think

Even in the Tories, more people support wind farms than oppose them.

Over the last year, a series of opinion polls have shown that a majority of people are in favour of onshore wind. No matter, has come the cry from some politicians – it may only be a minority that oppose wind, but they’ll vote on it, unlike those who support it.

I’ve heard from several MPs who say “I can’t afford to support wind farms”. But for the first time, new independent research by ComRes has shown that local and national candidates who support wind energy actually gain votes.

More than a third of voters in local elections (34 per cent) said they would be more likely to back a candidate who publicly supports building wind farms. Only 24 per cent would be less likely to do so. 36 per cent said it made no difference either way, and 7 per cent didn’t know. So attempts by the likes of Nigel Farage to turn wind energy into a touchstone issue – touting it as symbolic of “everything that’s wrong with this country” – simply don’t chime with more than three-quarters of voters in local elections. He’s out of step with the man in the pub he claims to speak for.

It’s interesting to drill down into the numbers for each of the three main parties. In local elections, more Conservative voters (33 per cent) said they’d be more likely to support a pro-wind farm candidate than those who said they’d be less likely to do so (31 per cent). Just over a third (34 per cent) said it would make no difference. So there’s more support for wind farms among local Tory voters than opposition to them. Perhaps some parts of the media should take notice of this, especially if they want to reflect the views of their readership honestly and accurately.

Support among Labour and Lib Dem voters in local elections is even higher, with 40 per cent and 41 per cent respectively saying a candidate supporting wind would get their vote. That might be expected – but what follows isn’t. Let’s take a look at the UKIP results. Nearly a quarter of UKIP voters (23 per cent) say they would be more likely to support a candidate who advocates building wind farms – and a further 29 per cent said it would make no difference (plus 3 per cent didn’t know). So even within Mr Farage’s own party, less than half his supporters (45 per cent) said they’d be less likely to vote for a pro-wind candidate. Perhaps someone should tell him – gently, using the independent data – the hard facts.

So how would this play out in a General Election? When ComRes asked voters what impact a party being anti-wind would have on their choice at national level, a quarter of Conservative voters said they would actually shy away from supporting them if they opposed wind. Amongst UKIP voters it’s even greater, with 29 per cent of those who voted for them in 2010 saying they would be less likely to back a national party opposing wind. Interestingly, a full 25 per cent of UKIP voters said they would be much less likely to support a party that was anti-wind compared to 18 per cent would be much more likely to back the antis.

Could it be that the mood among voters in Mr Farage’s party is somewhat more nuanced than he’s aware? The numbers would suggest that this is indeed the case.

This poll proves that there aren't actually angry hoards of people frothing at the mouth about wind farms. Local candidates’ policies on the council tax and building affordable housing, and national candidates’ views on immigration, the European Union and reforming the school exam system, all have a much greater impact on voting intentions. The message is clear – despite the anti-wind rhetoric from some politicians, ordinary people care much more about other issues. So it’s important to get the wind energy debate into perspective and keep it factual. It might be helpful if all concerned could recognise that there’s a wide range of opinion, within which the rabid opponents are very much the outliers.

Photograph: Getty Images

Jennifer Webber is the Director of External Affairs at RenewableUK.

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An unmatched font of knowledge

Edinburgh’s global reputation as a knowledge economy is rooted in the performance and international outlook of its four universities.

As sociologist-turned US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan recognised when asked how to create a world-class city, a strong academic offering is pivotal to any forward-looking, ambitious city. “Build a university,” he said, “and wait 200 years.” He recognised the long-term return such an investment can deliver; how a renowned academic institution can help attract the world. However, in today’s increasingly globalised higher education sector, world-class universities no longer rely on the world coming to come to them – their outlook is increasingly international.

Boasting four world-class universities, Edinburgh not only attracts and retains students from around the world, but also increasingly exports its own distinctively Scottish brand of academic excellence. In fact, 53.9% of the city’s working age population is educated to degree level.

In the most recent QS World University Rankings, the University of Edinburgh was named as the 21st best university in the world, reflecting its reputation for research and teaching. It’s a fact reflected in the latest UK Research Exercise Framework (REF), conducted in 2014, which judged 96% of its academic departments to be producing world-leading research.

Innovation engine

Measured across the UK, annual Gross Value Added (GVA) by University of Edinburgh start-ups contributes more than £164m to the UK economy. In fact, of 262 companies to emerge from the university since the 1960s, 81% remain active today, employing more than 2,700 staff globally. That performance places the University of Edinburgh ahead of institutions such as MIT in terms of the number of start-ups it generates; an innovation hothouse that underlines why one in four graduates remain in Edinburgh and why blue chip brands such as Amazon, IBM and Microsoft all have R&D facilities in the city.

One such spin out making its mark is PureLiFi, founded by Professor Harald Haas to commercialise his groundbreaking research on data transmission using the visible light spectrum. With data transfer speeds 10,000 times faster than radio waves, LiFi not only enables bandwidths of 1 Gigabit/sec but is also far more secure.

Edinburgh’s universities play a pivotal role in the local economy. Through its core operations, knowledge transfer activities and world-class research the University generated £4.9bn in GVA and 44,500 jobs globally, when accounting for international alumni.

With £1.4bn earmarked for estate development over the next 10 years, the University of Edinburgh remains the city’s largest property developer. Its extensive programme of investment includes the soon-to-open Higgs Centre for Innovation. A partnership with the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, the new centre will open next year and will supply business incubation support for potential big data and space technology applications, enabling start-ups to realise the commercial potential of applied research in subjects such as particle physics.

It’s a story of innovation that is mirrored across Edinburgh’s academic landscape. Each university has carved its own areas of academic excellence and research expertise, such as the University of Edinburgh’s renowned School of Informatics, ranked among the world’s elite institutions for Computer Science. 

The future of energy

Research conducted into the economic impact of Heriot-Watt University demonstrated that it generates £278m in annual GVA for the Scottish economy and directly supports more than 6,000 jobs.

Set in 380-acres of picturesque parkland, Heriot-Watt University incorporates the Edinburgh Research Park, the first science park of its kind in the UK and now home to more than 40 companies.

Consistently ranked in the top 25% of UK universities, Heriot-Watt University enjoys an increasingly international reputation underpinned by a strong track record in research. 82% of the institution’s research is considered world-class (REF) – a fact reflected in a record breaking year for the university, attracting £40.6m in research funding in 2015. With an expanding campus in Dubai and last year’s opening of a £35m campus in Malaysia, Heriot-Watt is now among the UK’s top five universities in terms of international presence and numbers of international students.

"In 2015, Heriot-Watt University was ranked 34th overall in the QS ‘Top 50 under 50’ world rankings." 

Its established strengths in industry-related research will be further boosted with the imminent opening of the £20m Lyell Centre. It will become the Scottish headquarters of the British Geological Survey, and research will focus on global issues such as energy supply, environmental impact and climate change. As well as providing laboratory facilities, the new centre will feature a 50,000 litre climate change research aquarium, the UK Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Oil and Gas, and the Shell Centre for Exploration Geoscience.

International appeal

An increasingly global outlook, supported by a bold international strategy, is helping to drive Edinburgh Napier University’s growth. The university now has more than 4,500 students studying its overseas programmes, through partnerships with institutions in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Sri Lanka and India.

Edinburgh Napier has been present in Hong Kong for more than 20 years and its impact grows year-on-year. Already the UK’s largest higher education provider in the territory, more than 1,500 students graduated in 2015 alone.

In terms of world-leading research, Edinburgh Napier continues to make its mark, with the REF judging 54% of its research to be either world-class or internationally excellent in 2014. The assessment singled out particular strengths in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, where it was rated the top UK modern university for research impact. Taking into account research, knowledge exchange, as well as student and staff spending, Edinburgh Napier University generates in excess of £201.9m GVA and supports 2,897 jobs in the city economy.

On the south-east side of Edinburgh, Queen Margaret University is Scotland’s first university to have an on-campus Business Gateway, highlighting the emphasis placed on business creation and innovation.

QMU moved up 49 places overall in the 2014 REF, taking it to 80th place in The Times’ rankings for research excellence in the UK. The Framework scored 58% of Queen Margaret’s research as either world-leading or internationally excellent, especially in relation to Speech and Language Sciences, where the University is ranked 2nd in the UK.

In terms of its international appeal, one in five of Queen Margaret’s students now comes from outside the EU, and it is also expanding its overseas programme offer, which already sees courses delivered in Greece, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

With 820 years of collective academic excellence to export to the world, Edinburgh enjoys a truly privileged position in the evolving story of academic globalisation and the commercialisation of world-class research and innovation. If he were still around today, Senator Moynihan would no doubt agree – a world-class city indeed.

For further information www.investinedinburgh.com