We're in the midst of a boom period within the wind industry. With the world becoming more reliant on renewable energy sources, many countries are turning to wind energy as a reliable and sustainable solution. As increased investment continues to be poured into the niche space of renewables, the demand for renewable energy is accompanied by a demand for talent. But how much talent is needed, and is there enough to help the world harness clean energy and achieve the zero net carbon targets our world leaders have pledged?
This article will explore how the wind industry has evolved, the demand for talent, and the top wind energy jobs within the renewable energy sector.
The Evolution of Wind Energy
You could go back thousands of years to witness the first instances of how wind energy has worked to our advantage. In fact, wind energy was first used by the ancient Egyptians, who used the wind to sail their boats down the river Nile. Fast-forward to the 21st century, where the wind is utilised to provide sustainable sources of electricity. When it comes to humans harnessing the power of wind energy, it may be nothing new, but something that continues to evolve.
In the wake of the 2015 Paris Agreement, where 195 nations committed to reducing the planet's temperature to well below 2°C by 2030, the need for renewable energy sources began to gain ground. With more and more countries pledging to have zero net carbon emissions, wind energy has quickly become one of the leading solutions to produce electricity, replacing unsustainable fossil fuels to help positively impact climate change.
To highlight the evolution of wind energy, in 2021, the global wind power capacity produced by onshore and offshore wind farms reached 837GW, surpassing the 597GW created in 2018. Experts believe that if the world continues this trajectory by developing and enhancing wind farms, by 2050, wind power will fulfil the electricity needs of one-third of the world. Of course, global powerhouses must address the need for talent to reach these milestones.
Between 2020-2025, the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) predicts wind power can produce 3.3 million new jobs. In the U.S, the world's second-largest wind energy producer, a $70 billion offshore wind farm market is on the way. President Biden and the White House and Transportation Department aim to create 80,000 offshore wind-related jobs by 2030.
Progression can also be seen in the U.K., where it's predicted that between now and 2050, 400,000 jobs will be needed to support onshore and offshore wind projects to help the U.K. reach a net zero. Additionally, we cannot exclude China, home to the world's largest onshore wind farm, with a capacity of 7,965MW, five times greater than its nearest rival, the U.S. In 2021, China invested $380 billion in clean energy, which includes its expansion into wind farm developments.
Wind energy has its advantages and disadvantages. There are global advocates for wind energy, and investment is rife across the globe. As always, with increased investment comes increased opportunities. However, the only caveat is the industry's genuine and well-recognised skills shortage.
Overcoming the Wind Energy Skills Shortage
Having created 1.2 million jobs worldwide, the wind industry has amassed plenty of opportunities. However, comparing the number of jobs needed to the industry's projections, the talent pool is quite strained, and a skills gap is very much apparent.
By 2030, Australia aims to be 82% powered by renewable energy. Achieving this goal will mean 30,000 jobs will need to be filled to help build solar farms, wind farms and battery storage. The worry is that the 'renewables boom' could be hindered by the lack of skilled workers within the industry.
Scotland, which introduced the world to its first wind turbine in 1887, is in a prime position to capitalise on the green jobs growth. Throughout 2021, 2.3% of jobs in Scotland were classed as 'green jobs', above the U.K.'s total average of 1.6% - which includes wind energy jobs. Despite this, there is still a UK-wide green jobs skills shortage of around 200,000 people.
In 2021, President Biden set a goal for the US to reduce its economy-wide net greenhouse gas pollution by 50-52%, with the overall achievement of net zero emissions by 2050. With these goals in mind, the renewable energy industry is experiencing rapid growth in economy-wide greenhouse gas pollution. It is predicted that by 2035, more than 900.000 skilled workers will be needed to meet renewable goals. This will see a significant increase from the 230,000 people employed in 2020. This very apparent skills gap will become a sizable obstacle in expanding renewable energies as the industry continues to require more skilled labour.
How does the wind energy industry work to overcome the skills shortage?
With anything, it's always easier said than done. However, there are three key ways to overcome the skills shortage in the wind energy industry.
There is great potential to bring skilled workers from other industries with transitional energy skills to work efficiently in the wind industry. For example, a 2020 survey revealed that 75% of offshore oil and gas workers would be willing to move to the offshore wind industry as they had the transferable skills. Additionally, of those who completed the survey, 77% said they would be happy to be retrained if they switched to the renewable energy sector.
Training, Re-skilling and Upskilling
To ensure the talent with the right skills are available to support the sector, organisations must invest in training, re-skilling and upskilling. For example, the Global Wind Organisation (GWO) estimates that nearly 500,000 workers will need to be trained to deliver onshore and offshore forecasts by 2025. This training will involve construction, installation, operation and maintenance across the wind power supply chain.
Access to a more diverse talent pool will subsequently mean an increase in talent. The wind industry is making progress when it comes to diversity. For example, the Switch List initiative gives diverse experts the platform to promote themselves as role models within the sector, thus inspiring more diverse talent to join the industry. Additionally, the U.K. Offshore Wind Sector Deal is on a mission to increase the representation of women in the industry to 33% and BAME employees to 9% by 2030.
Top 7 Wind Energy Jobs
Much can be done to support the skills shortage - it is far from doom and gloom. Regarding renewable energy jobs within wind energy, there is plenty of scope and career opportunities available. We have looked at the top 7 most-searched-for jobs in the wind energy sector to see where the demand is at its highest. Here are seven top wind energy jobs you should be aware of:
1. Mechanical Engineer
The role of a mechanical engineer in the wind industry is to provide technical expertise and support, research, design, production, installation, operation, and maintenance of the mechanical products and systems of wind turbines and wind plants. Their work aims to maximise wind energy production performance and cost reduction for project developers and manufacturers. Furthermore, mechanical engineers play a vital role in enabling the transition to renewable energy sources and sustainable practices due to their responsibilities.
2. Wind Turbine Technician
A wind turbine technician will be responsible for the general maintenance of a wind turbine, ensuring it operates as expected. Responsibilities include:
• Monitoring wind turbine efficiencies
• Carrying out electrical and mechanical repairs
• Routine checks
• Implementing health and safety procedures
Additionally, a wind turbine technician's job will be to support site managers and the junior team with regular maintenance checks.
3. Offshore Electrical Engineer
Electrical Engineers play a vital role in expanding wind as a renewable energy source. They are responsible for researching wind power to aid offshore wind projects' planning, development, construction and installation. In addition, they work on discovering new technical solutions to improve wind energy and its effectiveness in providing power to the wider public. Due to the worldwide focus on increasing renewable energy sources, electrical engineering jobs are much sought-after within the wind industry.
4. GIS Specialist
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist jobs are vital for a wind farm's planning and development stages. A GIS specialist will scope out the best locations for wind turbines, considering land or water boundaries, transmission lines, land cover, environmentally sensitive areas and topography. Crucially, they will assess an area's average wind speed to ensure the location has the potential to produce the necessary wind energy required.
5. Foundation Structural Engineer
A Foundational Structural Engineer will perform the structural design of offshore wind components. They produce and undertake technical reviews of the design from the initial concept through to detailed design and risk assessments. Importantly, the engineer will produce analysis and recommendations for how the structure of offshore wind farms can be improved. They work closely with clients to meet their budget, design, and productivity goals. Without people in this role, producing the end product of wind industry projects wouldn’t be possible.
6. Wind Project Manager
A Wind Project Manager will oversee the construction and development process of the wind plant from concept to completion, from selecting the site through to the installation of wind turbines. Wind Project Managers have in-depth understanding of wind specific construction concerns to inform construction activities and the development of bids for new projects. Wind Project Managers oversee and are responsible for ensuring the projects run smoothly and efficiently, managing all stakeholders throughout the process.
7. Offshore Bid Manager
An Offshore Bid Manager manages the development of competitive bid proposals into state OREC solicitations. This can include the evaluation of state OREC solicitation criteria, the coordination of proposals and submittal materials. Offshore Bid Managers are responsible for the delivery of high quality and comprehensive bid proposals, ensuring compliance with solicitation requirements. Other responsibilities include the development of business cases for offshore wind projects, preparation of key decision materials and coordinating relevant stakeholders.
What the Future Holds for Wind Energy
There is a clear indication that wind energy solutions will continue to be a key part of the world's shift to renewable energy and aims of achieving zero net carbon emissions. With areas such as the U.S., U.K., China and Australia, to name a few, all heavily investing in wind farms and wind energy, the industry is on course for a boom period in the not-too-distant future.
Electrical engineering is an area of employment which will positively feel the renewable energy boom. In the wind industry, electrical engineers are responsible for researching wind power leading to wind plant development, construction and installation. In addition, the expansion of wind as a renewable energy source will increase onshore and offshore wind farms, increasing the need for electrical engineers and leading to their growth in the jobs market.
Yes, there are obvious indicators to suggest the skills shortage will create some challenges, but these are issues that the industry can overcome.
At CSG Talent, we understand the wind industry's potential within the renewable energy space. Our Renewable Energy team have their finger on the pulse regarding securing the best c-suite and senior executive talent with roles within the niche areas of renewables. Additionally, our high-quality and purpose-driven approach is committed to supporting the globe's fastest-growing organisations to find the in-demand people to drive sustainable energy innovation within the sector.
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