The Sprint Towards Renewable Energy: Do We Have Enough Talent to Power This Transformation?

6 min read

By Grant McIntyre

Headhunter (Renewable Energy)

What Is Renewable Energy? 

Renewable energy is harnessed from renewable resources which are naturally replenished. This includes energy sources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. 

Emerging concerns about global sustainability have catapulted renewable energy into both mainstream and political concerns. Between 2009 and 2015, the Obama administration invested over $150 billion into renewables in the US in attempts to combat global warming. As of 2020, renewable energy sources accounted for about 12.6% of total U.S. energy consumption and about 19.8% of electricity generation.

As countries convened in Glasgow to re-align strategies and renew ambitions at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), there have been calls to increase the momentum of the global energy transition into renewable energy.

Subsequently, the following initiatives have been pledged:

  • The Biden administration is looking to plant wind turbines in the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico.
  • Jeff Bezos’ fund to fight Climate Change is joining a push spearheaded by the Ikea and Rockefeller foundations - aiming to parlay a $10bn fund into $100bn of funding for renewable energy in poor countries.
  • South Africa is set to receive $8.5bn to help end its reliance on coal in a deal announced at the COP26 climate summit.
  • India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, says India will produce more energy through solar and other renewables than the nation's entire grid by 2030.
  • In November 2021, the UK announced that they will exempt solar PV, energy storage and other clean energy technologies from business rate rises.
  • Canada set out documentation detailing how it will reach its national goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. 

The Transition to Renewable Energy - Where Is This Talent Coming From?

The sprint towards renewable energy has been excelled by its widespread socio-economic benefits, including job prospects. The Renewable Energy and Jobs: Annual Review 2021 report by the IRENA found that the renewable energy sector employed 12 million people in 2020 – a steady increase of 7.3 million since 2012. Furthermore, renewable energy jobs also appear to be more inclusive, showing better gender balance with 32% women employed in the sector - compared to 22% in the fossil fuels sector. 

The question is, do we have enough talent to fill these roles? 

Recent reports suggest that recruitment professionals are worried about an impending talent crisis for the sector, leaving companies unable to fill essential roles. Furthermore, with an increase in funding by government and online projects, there is a high risk of delays if we do not have the subsequent talent. 

Transitioning Skills & Knowledge from Traditional Power Generation into Renewable Energy Roles

The future of jobs in energy, in particular traditional power generation, is uncertain. Certainly, the switch towards renewable energy by all major, global economies may result in several traditional roles becoming obsolete. Those with skills from traditional power are realising they can utilise their transferable skills to transition into the renewable energy space.

Offshore Skills: 

Prior to offshore wind farms, offshore gravity-based concrete structures were utilised by traditional power generation for drilling, storage, or extraction. Those with experience working on these structures hold attractive and transferable expertise in engineering, construction, and project management. 

Built with the same structure, wind farms now require candidates with similar skills. Therefore, the industry should consider looking towards the oil and gas industry for experienced talent.

Moreover, some of the most technical and advanced instruments within energy are used in traditional power generation. If we want to achieve renewable energy globally, those with experience managing or engineering these instruments in other energy sectors could be a great source of talent. 

Certainly, those with senior, managerial experience will play a crucial role, overseeing candidate transitions into the renewable sector.

High voltage Skills and Safety: 

Similarly, high voltage work within the oil and gas industry is also needed within the renewable energy sector as the safety procedures and high voltage environments are similar across all the energy sectors. Therefore, exposure and knowledge in this area can make for a smoother transition into renewables. 

The Race Towards Renewable Energy Storage

Due to the intermittency of renewable energy such as wind and solar, we cannot control renewable energy in the same way we could with fossil fuels such as coal. Therefore, there is a huge demand to create complementary technology to help fill the gaps - a renewable energy storage solution.

In a recent TedxDanubia Talk, Michael Shellenberger, Time Magazine’s “Hero of the Environment'' and energy expert, explained that renewable energy sources can be particularly problematic during summer months revealing that some US states have had to pay neighbouring states to take their electricity so that they do not suffer a blow out of their electrical grid, after receiving too much power from solar developments. 

As a result, we must innovate and invent to overcome this hurdle. It is, therefore, not surprising that the demand for renewable energy storage solutions is already soaring - and innovators are responding to the call:

1. Pumped Hydropower Storage

According to the 2021 edition of the Hydropower Market Report, PSH currently accounts for 95% of all utility-scale energy storage in the United States. America currently has 43 PSH plants and has the potential to add enough new PSH plants to more than double its current PSH capacity

In action:

  • In Hawaii, a project combining onsite solar PV, conventional hydroelectric power and battery energy storage systems (BESS) would meet up to 25% of the energy needs on the island of Kaua’i, while helping stabilise and reduce electricity costs. 

2. Battery Storage

Intelligent battery software employs complex algorithms to coordinate energy production and computerised control systems are used to decide when to keep the energy to provide reserves or release it to the grid.

This type of intelligent energy storage is already being utilised by Amazon:

In action:

During Q3, ESS Inc announced several agreements that indicate big changes are on the horizon:

  • Signing a framework agreement to deploy 2GWh of flow batteries between now and 2026 - the first system has already been delivered to an SB Energy project in California.
     
  • Alongside supplying 8.5MWh of its iron flow battery systems to support a solar farm in Spain

3. Green Hydrogen Storage:

Hydrogen is often forgotten about with the increased popularity of lithium batteries. However, a recent simulation completed by the University of California, Irvine (UCI) showed that to meet the total world annual energy demand of global solar and wind dynamic production, it would require the support of nearly 20,000TWh of energy storage. Meaning, even if all our planet’s lithium was dedicated to support grid storage, we would still fall short of the energy storage capacity the grid requires. 

Although Hydrogen has the highest energy per mass of any fuel, its low ambient temperature density results in a low energy per unit volume, therefore requiring the development of advanced storage methods that have potential for higher energy density.

In action:

  • Janice Lin, founder and CEO of the Green Hydrogen Coalition, discovered that Green Hydrogen could serve as a drop-in fuel replacement for natural gas and provide long duration seasonal energy storage using existing infrastructure: Many gas turbines are already able to combust a blend of natural gas and hydrogen.
     
  • Several leading manufacturers, such as Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems and Siemens, are developing new gas turbines that could consume 100% hydrogen gas. (energy storage news)

Education, Training and Upskilling is Paramount:

As the renewable energy sector continues to expand, education and training, alongside upskilling and reskilling will play a pivotal part in the successful global transition into renewable energy.

The Annual Global CEO Survey from PwC revealed that more than 76% of CEOs from the energy, utilities, and resources sectors said the availability of skills (particularly digital) was among their list of future concerns. The report concluded that the lack of upskilling programmes, combined with a reluctance to recruit from outside of the sector was holding back successful transitions. 

Similarly, in September 2020 campaign groups ‘Friends of the Earth Scotland’, ‘Greenpeace UK’, and ‘Platform’, reported that 81% of UK-based employees working in fossil fuels wanted to transition from the sector into renewables. The group added that although many skills were transferable, few companies were tapping into already available knowledge. 

It’s a similar story for recruiters. When asked about the main reasons for the ongoing skills shortage in the Energy industry, over half (56%) of recruiters said the biggest challenge they face is an ageing workforce and lack of skilled staff, while 40% felt the biggest driver of the skills shortage is insufficient education and training.

This suggests that a cross-pollination between talent from traditional power generation into the renewables space may be the short-term solution for finding talented candidates to begin the transition. However, as an industry, we must pay closer attention to education and internship opportunities for renewable energy engineers if we want a secure talent pipeline in the long-term. 

So, Do We Have Enough Talent to Power This Transformation?

The global movement towards sustainable energy storage makes renewable energy an attractive sector to work in, and with the turmoil in oil prices affecting job security for workers in traditional power generation, many engineers are open to moving into the renewable energy sector.

Meanwhile, while renewable energy storage may be hailed as the ultimate ‘just-in-time’ product, its success won’t be possible without increasingly sophisticated software solutions, from the right talent.

This is where the benefits of strategic talent mapping come into their own, providing the insights required to maximise human potential and accelerate business success. Without a doubt, businesses must consider more robust recruitment strategies such as talent pipelining, employer brand, talent motivations, flexible working, competitive salaries, and sustainable projects if they’re to succeed. 

At CSG Talent, we’re already sourcing candidates who can innovate and build creative, renewable storage ideas, championing diverse talent who can power this transformation and ultimately, help save the planet. 

Are you? If you’re interested to see how, contact a member of our expert team or, browse our latest openings.