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The renewables industry is delivering the energy transition we need

Melanie Onn · 25 November 2021

Some people seem to be waiting for the energy transition to happen. The truth is, it’s already happening, writes Melanie Onn, deputy chief executive, of RenewableUK.

From a nascent industry just 20 years ago, wind power has established itself as a mainstream source of electricity and is now generating 43% of the UK’s electricity and helping to breathe new life into post-industrial towns (like my own of Grimsby) bringing much needed investment to the ports and skilled, long-term jobs.

Much has been made of the jobs numbers. Back in the mid-2010s renewables were being vaunted as the next big thing, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, and accelerating a green economy supporting a desire to reduce our reliance on polluting fuels. With economic and political shift, these plans were shelved, policies put on ice and the UK supply chain boat was lost temporarily to Europe, the Middle East and China.

Melanie Onn, RenewableUK

Thankfully things have changed. The policy landscape is the most favourable it has been in over a decade. We’ve even seen government funding through port infrastructure and supply chain investment taking place.

The offshore wind industry currently has 26,000 jobs in the sector and expects to reach 69,000 by 2030*. Of course, this depends on our steady pipeline of projects achieving consent so they can be delivered without delay. But it’s a strong signal about the direction of travel, that the industry is taking action to achieve with a massive amount of private investment.

Pandemic

Even through the pandemic, offshore wind proved itself to be very resilient, with Covid-secure project development continuing throughout lockdowns and an additional 2,000 jobs created in the first lockdown alone.

We were proud to have played our part in keeping the lights on and even had companies who were transforming their technology to make ventilators as part of the national effort.

Diversity

As a growing industry, we have set ourselves targets that not only aim to increase the percentage of women in our sector to 33% and people from ethnic minority backgrounds to 9%, but also ensure 2.5% of the total workforce are apprentices, and that support is provided to those transferring into the industry, including those from a military background.

Job transitions

Because many of the companies now developing offshore wind began life as oil and gas companies, lots of people in renewables started out in the fossil fuel business. Those transfers are still happening as new opportunities arise. For example, Reece, who’s a technical safety specialist, shared his story:

“Today is a good day, today is a proud day. At the beginning of the year I decided the oil & gas industry wasn’t for me anymore. I challenged myself to transition into renewable energy and hopefully work closer to home. Today I smashed my goal! I’ve just been offered a company position based out of my home town… on the world’s largest offshore wind farm… Safe to say I’m feeling pretty good”

We already know that there is a shortage of highly skilled engineers with electrical knowledge in the industry and there are other specialisms in environmental and planning roles and project management where there are also job opportunities. The sector is now developing its own online learning kit to support and grow its own talent to meet these needs.

Regular webinars with ‘meet the engineer or technician or project manager or operations coordinator’ sessions to different target audiences are being run to give real insight and experience of what it is like to work in the industry and also how people got there.

Safety

RenewableUK is currently working with GWO and OPITO to identify further opportunities for mutual recognition of both safety and technical competence training standards across the offshore wind and oil and gas sectors.

This would streamline training requirements and reduce barriers to accessing the sector without compromising safety, building on the existing Merit Assessment ‘conversion of training and qualifications’ Process.

The industry works with organisations such as IMCA, the Workboat Association, Nautical Institute, IJUBOA and the HSE to improve safety in the sector and work better together, driving up standards and sharing best practice.

Attracting talent

In order to attract the best talent, the industry recognises that it needs to be clear about the range of different roles that exist and the types of skills and competencies they need. This will be delivered through a new Wind Energy Access Portal which will shortly be launched by the Offshore Wind Industry Council to further improve access and understanding of the sector and support a just transition.

The industry has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. It is committed to opening up the sector, supporting new people into a modern, energetic workforce and delivering a UK powered on green energy.

  • *Offshore Wind Industry Council’s Skills Intelligence Model report, March 2021.
  • More: RenewableUK

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