Through increased investment and tough carbon emission targets, the green energy sector in the UK continues to prosper. The Climate Change Act has committed the country to ambitious green house gas reductions on 1990 levels of 42 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050 and this has brought a sense of urgency to a sector with huge potential.
The Bain Report published in (2008) suggests there are 5,000 direct full time employees recorded in the UK large-scale wind energy industry (both onshore and offshore) and wave and tidal industries combined, and that the sector will deliver no less than 70,000 new jobs by 2020, encompassing both senior and mid level management roles, as well as high skilled labour. This equates to a 25 per cent per year increase.
The demand for talent is vast and is likely to proliferate across all sectors, from consultancy and supply chain companies, to the energy companies themselves. Research, manufacturing, operations & maintenance, construction and development are all areas of employment growth and will continue to develop as the industry secures further investment.
Skilled workers with experience in grid connections, engineering, heavy industry and high-value capital projects will be vital for construction and operations and maintenance roles. Similarly, those with a management or commercial background within the traditional energy sectors will be required to oversee the development of upcoming green energy projects and cutting-edge technologies, from wind turbines to smart grid software.
The UK is already in a strong position to fill these and many other roles, particularly if we can harness the wealth of transferable skills from the oil and gas sector. We are already developing a world leading ‘blueprint' for a number of specialist renewable energy roles, particularly in the fields of research, development and testing. We also lead the way in wave and tidal prototyping and testing at the EMEC Centre in Orkney, as well as developing ‘Smart Grid' technology that makes more efficient use of power outputs.
However, I believe that right now, we need to focus much of our attention on developing installation, logistical, operational and maintenance roles that service the offshore wind sector. Offshore wind jobs will provide stable, long term employment opportunities in a part of the renewable energy sector with the strongest growth potential.
For example, in only a decade there will be 20GW of installed wind power, and half of this will be generated by offshore wind. This equates to five times the capacity that there is today. The potential therefore is clearly huge and the sheer scale of offshore wind will provide many UK based employment opportunities for decades to come. The real challenge now is not so much how to generate jobs, it is finding the right skills, and the oil and gas sector must be the place to look.
The oil and gas sector contains many relevant, transferable skills built up over four decades. We are already world leaders at installing and maintaining deep water structures, from laying sub-sea cables and maintaining oil rigs to servicing underwater structures and constructing platforms or ‘jackets' as they are more commonly known. Many of these roles are already highly relevant to the offshore wind sector.
The next step is to encourage 'cross-skilling' through apprenticeship schemes, training programmes and other employment incentives. Wind energy companies must also be willing to recognise the value of transferable skills, and invest in their own training schemes. REpower UK and a number of other manufacturers have already launched an ambitious apprenticeship scheme with Carnegie College, but more needs to be done.
The demand created by the offshore wind sector is in areas where the UK has a wealth of skills and experience, and this opens up opportunities to both companies and individuals with a background in the O&G sector. Awareness of the opportunities remains low however, and the incentive to make the switch is yet to be realised.
What is more, we not only have the potential to service the domestic offshore wind market, we hold the key to a knowledge economy where ‘offshore' skills can be exported, generating further employment opportunities and revenue streams. As the offshore wind sector matures, the global market for operations, maintenance and logistical roles will increase significantly, and our expertise will be in great demand.
With clear planning, committed funding, and good leadership both from the government and from within the industry, the UK has the potential to become a global hub of renewable energy skills, expertise that will not only secure jobs for our domestic workforce for many decades, but provide us with a lucrative exportable resource to a global renewable energy market.
Rick Eggleston is the managing director of wind turbine manufacturer REpowerUK