* Labour-intensive offshore wind can accelerate job growth
* Calls for firm renewable policy goal beyond 2020
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, April 16 (Reuters) - Wind power has bucked Europe’s economic downturn to swell gross domestic product and create jobs but needs more ambitious EU green energy policy and investment in research and development to keep growing, the region’s industry group said on Monday.
The sector contributed 32 billion euros ($42 billion) to European Union GDP in 2010, up by a third since 2007, according to a report by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).
It said jobs in the sector had reached nearly 240,000 by 2010, an increase of just under one third in 2007-2010, while unemployment rose by 9.6 percent.
The number employed in European wind should reach 520,000 by 2020, boosted by increased use of offshore wind which is more labour-intensive than onshore, the association estimated.
It forecast the wind industry’s contribution to GDP would nearly triple to 94.5 billion euros by 2020.
“Wind energy is a recession-busting industry,” said Arthouros Zervos, president of EWEA and also chief executive of Greece’s biggest electricity producer, PPC, which has suffered as the nation has crumpled under a huge debt burden.
“It is countering the recession - providing increasing economic activity, more jobs and exports every year to an EU struggling with an economic crisis intensified by ever increasing amounts of fuel being imported at rising costs to European citizens.”
The contribution to growth is both direct from the wind sector itself and indirect from related service industries.
That growth also reduces the amount needed for oil and gas imports, which the European Commission president has said cost 700 euros per year for each EU citizen.
EWEA said strong EU policies, centred on firm targets, led to European leadership of the wind industry, but now the industry body is pushing for the bloc to agree on future goals.
The Commission has set great store by greener energy as a means to spur the economy, but the bloc has been struggling to reach agreement on policy beyond a set of 2020 targets, including one to increase the share of renewables in the energy mix to 20 percent.
“EWEA believes that the most effective way to maintain and expand Europe’s leadership in wind energy would be a continuation of those policies in the form of a binding 2030 renewable energy target,” it said.
The pioneering wind nations -- Denmark, Germany and Spain -- have been losing market share to new markets, but the upside is that they are exporting parts to them.
To retain first-mover advantage, however, increased research and development is essential, together with policies “to support the continued development of a European wind industry”, the group said.
EWEA said it took the 2007-2010 time period for the report, because data for that period was solid, but its policy analysts said the trend since 2010 has been broadly unchanged.
$1 = 0.7622 euros editing by Jane Baird