The use of clean and renewable energy is increasingly replacing fossil fuels, with global leaders committed to international targets on cutting carbon emissions and combating climate change. The cost of producing clean energy has never been lower than in the last couple of years, and it is becoming one of the cheapest sources of power in an increasing number of countries.
A blueprint published in October last year, called the Clean Growth Strategy, laid out the UK Government’s plans to achieve the binding target of cutting carbon emissions by 57% by 2032. The core focus of the strategy, which is a requirement of the Climate Change Act and included over 50 measures to improve energy efficiency and clean power, is to make businesses and households energy efficient.
In the UK, 2017 is thought to have been the greenest year ever, and 2018 already looks set to surpass it. Data from the National Grid showed that 13 different records regarding renewable energy were broken in the UK in 2017 [http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/uk-clean-energy-records-green-britain-2017-climate-change-global-warming-a8130151.html], such as the first time since the Industrial Revolution that coal power had not been used for a whole day, the most wind power produced in one day, and the most electricity from solar power produced in one moment.
Renewable energy now generates a quarter of the UK’s energy needs and that figure only looks set to rise as investment in the sector increases, production costs continue to decline, customer demand hits an all-time high, and technology-driven innovations improve generation, supply and distribution.
Renewable energy jobs forecast
So what does this all mean for the UK’s renewable energy jobs market? As the use of renewable and sustainable energy continues to grow, technologies develop and customers increasingly demand more cost-effective green energy options, there’s no doubt that job opportunities in the UK market will be varied and plentiful.
Experts predict that clean energy will see massive long-term growth as initiatives and legislation to tackle climate change and carbon emissions come to the fore and new, more cost-efficient technologies are developed to meet targets.
The Renewable Energy Association (REA) says job growth in the clean energy market has been nearly three times that of the national average, [https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/mar/17/clean-energy-postgrads-looking-to-the-future], although it does also say the increase in jobs in the sector has slowed down [https://www.cleanenergynews.co.uk/news/solar/clean-energy-jobs-growth-slows-as-westminster-policy-bonfire-hits-home] because of changing Government policies.
However, in its report published last July, the REA said there were 125,490 jobs in the domestic market for renewable power, heat and transport during 2015/16, showing an approximate growth of 2.5% each year. This is still a good increase, despite it being down on previous years which had shown up to a 10% rise.
And according to the wind and marine energy trade association Renewable UK [https://www.prospects.ac.uk/jobs-and-work-experience/job-sectors/energy-and-utilities/careers-in-the-renewable-energy-industry], jobs in these two sectors will potentially increase from around 30,000 to 70,000 in the next ten years.
Growth areas and opportunities
Renewable energy is generated from a wealth of sources such as offshore and onshore wind, photovoltaic and thermal solar, hydropower, biomass and biogas, geothermal and nuclear. So it’s easy to imagine the wealth of job opportunities available across all these disciplines, whether it’s outdoor work, office jobs or laboratory roles.
The REA’s report last July found that the most jobs within the renewable energy sector are in the wind and solar power industries, despite solar being hardest hit by changes in Government policy.
Current areas of growth include offshore windfarm developments, which were allocated a further £550m of subsidies in the Clean Growth Strategy, and solar power and onshore wind farms, which will also receive some support under the plan. The strategy also mentions looking at the best option for cutting emissions from heating, using low-carbon alternatives to gas.
Smaller energy companies are also emerging in the market, providing a range of opportunities in skilled technical and analytical roles for people with experience and qualifications in engineering, maths and science.
As renewable energy costs decline, its applications have broadened beyond electricity production. Energy storage and electric vehicles are exciting growth areas, as well as the emerging technology of hydropower, with the world’s largest tidal energy test site located in Cornwall.
A conservative estimate in the 2017 State of Engineering report from Engineering UK suggests the UK has a shortfall of 20,000 engineering graduates each year.
The growth in the use of renewable energies means that the current skills shortage in engineering looks set to widen, and the impact of Brexit could make it even greater still. But it means there are some great job opportunities available for those with the right skills.
The increase in renewable and sustainable energy projects around the UK means there is more need for specialist engineers, project managers and developers. Engineers skilled in specific areas, such as mechanical, design, solar and wind will be in high demand, along with analysts, scientists and technical designers.