The power and energy sector is being transformed by a rising demand for renewable and sustainable energy. This trend stems from mounting worries about climate change, environmental damage, and energy stability. Consequently, there's a shift towards adopting sustainable practices, renewable energy sources, and nuclear power. How has the growing focus on renewable and sustainable energy in the power and energy sector affected employment?
The energy mix: Renewable energy sources, nuclear, and sustainability
Mounting concerns over climate change, environmental degradation, and energy security are causing a shift towards cleaner and more sustainable energy sources in the United Kingdom. Fossil fuels like coal and gas, which have been the primary source of energy for many decades, are gradually being replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal power.
The UK government's Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) reported that in 2022, the country's renewable electricity generation reached 134.8 TWh, matching the previous high in 2020. Wind generation also achieved a record high, increasing by 24%. Despite a 25% decrease in operational capacity, nuclear generation increased by 4%. Low-carbon sources accounted for 56% of electricity generation, with renewable's share increasing from 39.6% to 41.4%.
The UK's nuclear power sector is also receiving increased investment. As part of the UK's long-term energy strategy, the government announced a £385m investment in 2021 to develop the next generation of nuclear reactors.
Development of energy storage solutions
Renewable energy sources like solar and wind are intermittent, posing a challenge to meeting energy demands. The UK is addressing this issue by developing energy storage technologies. Battery storage is gaining popularity with the country's capacity increasing over 80% in 2020 to reach 1.3 GW.
Pumped hydro storage is another option, where water is pumped to an elevated reservoir and released to generate electricity. The UK has four pumped hydro storage facilities with a total capacity of 2.8 GW.
Thermal storage, which stores energy as heat for later electricity generation, is still in development, but the UK government is investing in its potential as an energy storage solution.
Energy demands and energy efficiency improvements
The need for more efficient and sustainable energy sources is growing due to the increasing demand for energy, especially in developing countries. Energy efficiency improvements can help reduce energy consumption while maintaining productivity levels. This includes initiatives such as constructing energy-efficient buildings, improving industrial processes, and promoting energy-efficient appliances.
The power and energy sector is also developing microgrids and smart grids. Microgrids are small-scale power grids that can function independently or in conjunction with the primary power grid. Smart grids, on the other hand, are more complex systems that use advanced technology to manage and optimize the power grid. Both of these technologies have the potential to improve the efficiency and resilience of the power grid.
How is this impacting the industry's workforce?
As the world increasingly embraces renewable and sustainable energy sources, the power and energy sector is in need of skilled professionals who can drive innovation and bring about the necessary changes. This growing demand for expertise in renewable energy sources, energy storage, microgrids, smart grids, and energy efficiency improvements presents numerous career opportunities for engineers, scientists, technicians, and other specialists. However, accompanying challenges have also arisen.
Skills and knowledge gap
According to a report by the National Grid, the UK will need to fill around 400,000 energy-related jobs by 2050 to meet its net-zero emissions target. However, there is currently a significant skills and knowledge gap in the industry.
Many traditional power and energy professionals may not have the necessary skills and knowledge to work with renewable energy sources, energy storage, and microgrids. This is especially true for those who have been in the industry for a long time and have not kept up with the latest developments in the field.
A survey by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) found that only 36% of energy professionals in the UK feel confident in their knowledge of renewable energy technologies. Furthermore, 63% of those surveyed said they believe there is a skills shortage in the industry.
The industry needs to invest in training and education to bridge the skills gap. The UK government launched the Green Jobs Taskforce in 2021 to identify the skills needed for the transition to a low-carbon economy. There are also existing training programs like the Renewable Energy Skills Hub and the Energy Institute's Energy Management Professional Scheme to help professionals develop the necessary skills and knowledge for renewable energy and new technologies.
Finding skilled candidates
The transition towards sustainable energy solutions has created a growing demand for qualified engineers, scientists, technicians, and other specialists. However, competition from other industries has made it difficult for the power and energy sector to attract and retain skilled candidates.
To tackle this issue, organisations can offer competitive salaries and benefits, provide opportunities for career growth and professional development, and foster a work culture that values innovation and creativity.
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