The week ahead: the turning of the tide

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New estimates of the amount of electricity that could be generated from tides in the Pentland Firth are throwing a spotlight on future energy engineering needs

Last week The Engineer reported on how Scotland’s renewables industry is employing record numbers and that the march of the frackers is gathering pace.

Scotland’s renewable ambitions received a further boost today with news that tides in the Pentland Firth could be used to generate approximately 1.9GW of electricity.

Engineers from Edinburgh and Oxford Universities conducted the study, which was commissioned and funded by the Energy Technologies Institute as part of its Performance Assessment of Wave and Tidal Array Systems (PerAWAT) project.

The research team believe that up to 4.2GW could be harnessed in the stretch of water but the relative efficiency of tidal turbines brings the estimate down to 1.9GW.

The team add that turbines would need to be located across the entire width of the channel to realise the full potential of its tidal streams and that locations have been identified for maximum returns on the energy source.

Employment in Scotland’s renewables industry may have risen by five per cent to 11,695 full-time staff but this is tempered by familiar warnings of emerging skills shortages, an issue identified today as the biggest hindrance to growth for the oil and gas industry in 2014.

Last week’s survey of 540 companies by Scottish Renewables found that over half (54 per cent) planned to take on more staff this year, but the same report highlighted where gaps will occur.

Of the companies identifying skills gaps, 34.6 per cent said they were in need of more graduate level engineers, 29.3 per cent said they require technician engineers, and 27.8 per cent said they needed more instrumentation and construction engineers.

In the shale domain IET hosts a session on fracking at Roll-Royce’s learning and development centre in Derby this week, where Cuadrilla Resources will explain the process, the potential for its use in the UK and how they plan to address numerous concerns expressed about it.

This event occurs in the same week that Energy minister Michael Fallon goes before House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee to give evidence on economic impact of shale gas on energy policy.

The USA has embraced its shale oil and gas industry but is not immune to skills shortages, a fact highlighted in a report published today.

DNV GL’s annual report, Challenging Climates: The outlook for the oil and gas industry in 2014, has been produced with input from a survey of over 430 oil and gas professionals and interviews with 20 industry executives.

For the second year running it found that skills shortages were the number one concern for leaders within the industry, a situation pushing up salaries for contactors alone to an average of $1,000 a day.

The report reveals an overall mood of optimism in the industry for the year ahead (88 per cent) but highlights a list of positions that are becoming increasingly hard to fill globally. They are: project managers (38 per cent), who are most in demand in Asia Pacific; plus offshore-related engineers (marine, technical, operational, piping) (24%), and safety and risk engineers (16 per cent)).

The rapid growth of shale oil and gas production in the US, and the changing nature of projects, has led 59 per cent of respondents to identify acute skills deficiencies.

DNV GL, a technical advisor to the oil and gas industry, believes a more diverse approach to recruitment could help the issue.

‘The skills it takes to manage the construction of a space shuttle or hospital are not necessarily so dissimilar to what’s needed to manage the construction of an oil platform,’ said Elisabeth Tørstad, CEO of DNV GL – Oil & Gas. ‘We will have a talent squeeze if we seek to duplicate the people in the industry today, but not if we are able to utilise the wider talent pool available to us.’