Renewable Energy Jobs and Skills Development

Renewable energy initiatives will bolster 10’s of 000’s more renewable energy jobs. In this article, we look at recently published employment numbers in the green energy space. Further, we consider the development of skills. Funding associated with new initiatives has historically created an influx of some poorly prepared contractors. Or, more cynically, they have wanted a ‘fast buck’. Cliff Arnold, founder and CEO of Energifix, gives his view on skills development.

About Energifix

Energifix is a team of Engineers who are also armed forces veterans. Their shared ambition is to reduce the planets carbon footprint. Energifix provides turnkey installation services for homes and businesses utilising green energy systems. This, with smart grid integrations and automation, optimises and delivers low carbon energy. Their armed forces background leads to excellent teamwork, skilled project management and pride in delivering solutions. Aristotle provides the Energifix Company motto. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”. Also, there is a commitment to increase the number of jobs, both directly and indirectly.

Renewable Energy Jobs And The Employment landscape

The Renewable Energy and Clean Technologies Association (REA) published the following UK data for 2018.

Source: REA/Innovas 2020

In total, almost 129,000 people were employed across 6,645 Companies. Thus, each Company employed 19 people on average. Wind energy was the highest employer with ~47,000 people. London led the way, regionally, with ~24,000 employees. Over 30% of employment is in London and the South. This chimes with recent Government announcements that initiatives will look to re-balance the North/South divide in renewable energy jobs.

Global comparisons

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has a database for renewable energy jobs by sector. Taking some examples, it shows China with 2.2 million employees in solar pV and half a million in wind. The USA has 240,000 in solar pV and half that number in wind. Globally, there are 3.75 million people working in the solar pV sector and 1.16 million in wind. It is interesting to note that the UK has the opposite skew between solar pV and wind energy.

Market Value

Now, back to the UK, the REA report also quotes business values for renewables by region.

Renewable Energy Value in £Bn
Source: REA/Innovas 2020

The UK had a value worth nearly £19Bn in 2018. This yields a value of ~£147,000 per employee which compares well with the UK average of £118,000 per employee. The average Company size is ~£2.9 million in turnover. This infers that the majority of companies working in Renewable Energy are classified as ‘Small’. Most companies have moved across from the sectors of plumbing and heating to also learn and install air and ground source heat pumps, primarily lead by consumers demand.

Looking back …..

Next, comparing 2018 to 2017 gives the following headlines:

  • Overall renewable energy jobs grew by ~1.5% and business value by 5%
  • Highest employment growth was in offshore wind at 8%. Biomass power employment grew by 7.6%
  • Solar was the only sector to show an employment decline. There were ~2,800 job losses in solar pV, equivalent to 25.6% of the 2017 workforce, probably as a direct result of the withdrawal of the solar energy Feed-In Tariff (FIT) scheme
  • The number of active Companies decreased slightly (by 6). However, value growth was more than double that of the previous period.

Looking forward …..

The UK is investing in many Renewable Energy sectors. Experience shows this will result in a mix of larger existing Companies and new Enterprises. Either way, this leads to increased employment. REA combined their own forecasts with those of Bloomberg. They predict there could be ~238ooo renewable energy jobs by 2030. This is an additional 109000 jobs from 2018 figures.

Even more ambitious are UK Government predictions. They claim an additional 250,000 renewable energy jobs will be created by the phasing out of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030. Of course, many of these jobs may not be genuinely ‘new’, but transfers from existing technologies. This leads to a very important question. How do we redeploy and train/retrain for the right skills for Renewable Energy Jobs?

Skills for professional Renewable Energy Jobs

A look into the history

Let’s take a look at the early days of solar pV. The ‘financials’ were very attractive. This drew many into the supply chain with limited and sometimes no, relevant experience. The term ‘cowboys’ is a disservice to real cowboys – but you get the drift! At the ‘front end’ of the process, solutions were often incorrectly specified. The orientation of roofs, or shading, sometimes ignored. At the ‘back end’, installations were too often ‘botched’. The guilty parties took their cut and left the end consumer with no after-care service. It has taken many years for some of these poor installations to be rectified by reputable and knowledgable Companies. There are similar examples across other technologies, such as heat pumps and biomass boilers.

Learning from the past …

Cliff Arnold, CEO of Energifix, has a clear view on this. “We need to learn from the past. Putting investment into the hands of poorly trained or untrained Companies will result in poor returns”. He adds “Worse, in many respects, it will result in solutions which don’t optimise energy consumption and carbon reduction, and in the worse cases cause installation failures after a few months or years in operation”.

Many published courses are aimed at Engineers coming from ‘parallel’ industries. For example, Gas or Electrical Engineers. These are often a few days to weeks in length. Cliff states more time is needed, preferably by working as part of a reputable Renewable Energy installation company “My view is that a year to two years experience alongside a mentor is needed” Cliff explains “Anyone will tell you, there’s a big leap in putting theory into practice”. “Learning theory and practice together gives an ideal solution”.

Cliff is also mindful that engineering skills are just one part of successful completion. “Understanding the Customer requirement, good project management skills and teamwork are all important too”. With his background, Cliff understands that both military and engineering experience are a perfect blend. “We are building a team of Military Service leavers and bridging any knowledge gaps by apprenticeships”. He stresses “Our business model is built on giving them a decent living wage, training and a career for the future”.

Concluding Renewable Energy Jobs

A recent article by Corine De Bilbao, CEO International – Segula Technologies, was titled “No industrial recovery without engineering specialists”. It recognises the key contribution of engineers in R&D, manufacturing and installation in a majority of industries.

The role of Engineers is pivotal to the Renewable Energy sector. There is no argument that pace and support are needed. But there is also an argument that to achieve our targets, Engineers must be properly trained. This not only falls on the shoulders of the 6th form schools, colleges and universities but with the Government in helping encourage the courses in various forms of engineering that will lead to renewable energy jobs. Companies such as this one, recruiting company are increasingly diversifying or coming to market to help recruit for renewable energy jobs.