Job Creation in the Wind Power Sector
The renewable energy sector will be responsible for substantial job creation by 2050; it has to, if climate change is to be halted and fossil fuels are to be eliminated. What the numbers will be are widely divergent, depending on which authority is consulted, but there will no doubt be positive growth.
It has been estimated by IRENA (The International Renewable Energy Agency) that the sector had created 11 million jobs globally by 2018.
While the global pandemic put a halt on development and growth in every sector of the economy except healthcare, IRENA sees an opportunity for stronger growth in the renewable sector. A need to build climate resilience is now top of mind in most governments and societies today, as well as urgency to attain the SDG goals and targets. They estimate that if more impetus is given to the energy transition, some 5.5 million more jobs could be added by 2023.
They believe that the capital costs that would result in this job creation would be realistic and achievable:-
“Each million dollars invested in renewables or energy flexibility would create at least 25 jobs, while each million invested in efficiency would create about 10 jobs"
Where are the Most Jobs in Renewables?
The clear winner in the race to create more jobs is the solar sector. This is because of its appeal to the energy prosumer as an affordable alternative to grid power and the potential to sell energy back to the grid via net-metering. Many small installation businesses have opened globally as a result. Wind energy trails in 4th position, but has an advantage over other renewable sources, especially when it comes to offshore wind, as it is the industry to which offshore oil and gas jobs can migrate.
There are three categories of job opportunities in the wind power sector:-
- Direct jobs, that support the life cycle.
- Indirect jobs, such as energy storage, AI for weather prediction and construction of transmission lines or HVDC cables connecting the wind farm.
- Transition jobs, where the workforce in twilight energy businesses can move into wind.
Direct jobs - Supporting the Wind Power Lifecycle
The wind power lifecycle can be broken up into 4 phases:-
- Design and manufacture,
- Build and Install,
- Maintenance and operations
Design and Manufacture
The design and manufacture of wind turbines, blades and towers is well established and companies such as Siemens Gamesa will require additional resources both in the design and manufacturing space as well as in managerial and administrative roles.
Build and Install
There are many existing skills in the energy space that are needed to install an onshore wind farm, from earthing design for the site to design and erection of transmission towers and lines. The transport of the components requires special skills of a company like Mammoet, which has perfected the art of moving massive engineering projects from factory to construction site, especially wind turbines. Offshore farms require different skill sets, both from the traditional power sector and specialists in offshore wind installations. There is a good correlation between installing offshore drilling equipment for oil and gas and anchoring a wind farm to the ocean floor or rigging a floating farm.
Operate and Maintain
The maintenance of wind farms, specifically offshore, can be quite labour-intensive and costly, and currently employs a large contingent of maintenance crews using ships and helicopters. This will gradually be replaced by automated maintenance using drones and undersea robots, but in the short-term will still employ more resources.
Most wind farms have an expected life of 20 years, and many installations, especially in the North Sea, are reaching their sell-by date. The industry that can recycle and reuse blades and turbines is still in its infancy, and will be forced to grow as moving parts age and need to be decommissioned or replaced.
There are many indirect jobs that support the wind renewable sector, from battery backup, HVDC cabling and IoT to specialized coatings to reduce friction and delay corrosion. This is where most opportunities lie for start-ups. As mentioned above, there is a need to reduce overheads in wind farm maintenance, which is where drone and robotic technology comes into play, supported by AI and machine learning.
The wind power industry has a critical role to play in the just transition from fossil fuels. Engineering jobs in oil and gas transition well to offshore wind farms. However, it is not just about jobs; transition projects need careful planning and management and there is already a growing market for specialist transition programme and project managers, trainers and change managers. IRENA illustrates the potential global loss of over one million jobs in fossil fuels in the next 2 years. Hopefully there is sufficient capacity in the wind renewables sector to accommodate both the transition from fossil fuels and create new jobs for graduates and entrepreneurs as well
Gender Equity in Wind Jobs
While jobs in the energy sector as a whole tend to have a preponderance of men, the renewables industry definitely shows an increase in the employment of women in all categories of work, from low-skilled workers to STEM professionals. In 2019 IRENA published a report on gender in the wind renewables sector based on a global survey.
It was found that there are even less women in the wind workforce (21%) than in traditional energy, although, Europe and North America did have a higher percentage of 26%, preponderantly in admin jobs.
In order to counteract this bias and create awareness, the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) has created a Women in Wind leadership programme, which seeks to advance the role of women as agents of change in society. It fosters their participation in the wind industry, in support of SDG 5, which seeks global gender equity. The balance of STEM and managerial jobs for women in wind power definitely needs more attention. The problem is not limited to the workspace; science and engineering faculty staff are also predominantly male. TU Delft has recognised this as a challenge, and actively are trying to remedy the imbalance. DEWIS is a network of women scientists within TU Delft who encourage their peers to develop and succeed.
The Role of the Netherlands
The Netherlands has made substantial investments in wind power, and also has a strong oil and gas energy sector that will need to transition. However, the country has been lagging in its adoption of renewables as a primary source of energy, which obviously has an adverse impact on new and transition job creation. While renewable energy’s slice of the pie increased from 6% in 2017, to 8.8% in 2019, and to 11,1% in 2020, it had been agreed with the EU that the 2020 renewable contribution should be 14%. If the Netherlands is going to reach the stretch targets in its 2019 Climate Agreement, creation of renewable jobs is essential. With all the academic support available at TU Delft and Erasmus University, young talent can be skilled either to fill the job skills gap or to innovate at hubs such as ImpactCity and YES!Delft. The Hague is a welcoming nexus for both campuses and innovation hubs, and is home to major operators in the wind sector, such as Siemens Gamesa.