Viewpoint: As our industry grows, so does its need for new skills

I'm reminded from time to time how fortunate we are to work in this industry sector, with the opportunity to make a real positive impact on the future of our planet.

For so many of the people I meet, and particularly those that have been in the industry for some time, we were originally drawn to it by a personal passion and belief that wind power is a key part of our energy future, believing that it will tackle our dependency on fossil fuels and help to combat climate change.

It was an ethical decision that stopped people from taking a role that would start them on one of the "traditional" career paths, to join new and exciting companies that were making the early forays into this space. I have no doubt that it is this passion and commitment that has been the catalyst which has driven the industry to achieve so much over the past few decades.

People now join our industry from a wide variety of sectors, and for an equally wide variety of reasons. This means that for some, the motivation may have changed and is not the same as for those that joined in the early days.

This diversity is a change we must celebrate as an industry; it's both a mark of our success and the enabler of our continued growth. The changes and developments within the industry are huge and exciting for many.

Today we have an industry, according the last Irena Renewable Energy and Jobs annual review, that supports the employment of more than a million people globally, and yet we are still only on the tip of the iceberg that represents the future of our industry.

DNV GL recently published its Energy Transition Outlook report, which looks at the developing energy mix to 2050. It forecasts that by 2030 the installation rate (in GW/year) for new wind-power generation will more than double, and then double again by 2040, and yet again by 2050.

As costs continue to fall and the demand for electricity rises - that demand is predicted to increase even while total energy demand peaks as the nature of our total energy use changes - wind power, along with other renewable sources, will become an ever-increasing part of our energy supply.

The continued falling costs mean governmental support schemes, which are inevitably uncertain over the longer term, become less important, enabling our industry to become an ever more stable and integral part of the energy generation mix. Delivering that level of installation growth means employing more and more people, including radical pioneers to technically challenge and innovate our current way of thinking.

We need individuals with the motivation to optimise manufacturing and incrementally drive out the next 0.1% cost in components through optimised volume manufacturing, as well as those next-generation pioneers with the drive to create the most technically advanced and innovative new wind turbines, or whatever might replace them.

New specialisms

The continued growth in installation rates means more manufacturing, installation, operations and service specialists, as well as an increasing need for new specialisms, such as decommissioning, and the refurbishment and recycling of old turbines.

The growth in installed capacity will change so many things about our industry. We already see the changes data analytics is making in our sector, and this will drive yet more changes as data-based evidence and statistics will alter the way we design and operate wind farms.

Companies in the industry will need to grow, both organically and through acquisitions and consolidation to meet the global market demands. We need to continually attract new people away from "traditional" career paths in other sectors and provide a diversity of opportunities and career choices to ensure we can build and develop that capacity.

It's nice to think that there will always be a space for "three people in a shed" to become pioneers and create new and exciting changes in our industry. That passion and drive shouldn't be lost. However, there is no doubt we are witnessing the ongoing industrialisation of the wind-power sector and the changing nature of employment that goes with this.

We are not victims of our own success, but champions of a new age that sees wind power, along with other forms of renewables, become the dominant form of electricity generation. We need to accept change to ensure that we can employ the next million people even quicker and continue to drive our industry forward.

Christopher Newton is head of the project engineering department at DNV GL Energy

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