Government and industry are being urged to unite around a national skills strategy that underpins the development of low-carbon energy and supply chains.
This is a finding from Energy Barometer 2021: the net zero skills issue which sought the opinions of over 400 energy professionals to gauge their views, hopes and fears for the sector.
Despite progress in UK policy, respondents to the Energy Barometer highlight that action to bring on the necessary workforce is pressing given 2030 and 2050 emission reduction goals. They add that progress in this area should not come at a cost to today’s skilled workers and their communities.
In a statement, energy Institute president Steve Holliday FREng FEI said: “A laser focus on policies and initiatives to drive the development of low-carbon technologies is vital, but it must not eclipse the equally important need to support and develop the net zero workforce.
“We often hear about the long lead times involved in building a new power plant. But the lead times required to bring on a heat pump installer or wind turbine engineer – from inspiring interest in STEM in schools through the necessary apprenticeships and university degrees and into the workforce – are as long if not longer.
“The Barometer is clear that decarbonisation won’t happen at the necessary speed and scale without the assembly of a mass skilled workforce, and so we are encouraged by signals from ministers that this will be an integral part of the UK’s net zero strategy.”
Research by National Grid estimates that 400,000 new recruits into energy will be needed for the UK to reach net zero by 2050, with over half being new roles.
The Energy Barometer found that 57 per cent of existing professionals are planning to undertake training in the next year as a result of net zero, but 49 per cent have concerns about cost, time and availability of courses standing in the way of their skills development. Just over half of respondents are considering a move to a different field of energy, and most point to investment in skills in the existing workforce as necessary to overcome the strong sense that communities are disconnected from net zero.
More widely, there are signs that getting net zero on the statute book and hosting COP26 have given fresh impetus to energy policy and that the global pandemic will help the low-carbon transition over the next decade.
New coal mining attracts the least overt support (12 per cent), followed by shale gas (25 per cent), offshore oil and gas (36 per cent) and gas fired power generation (43 per cent). The International Energy Agency’s recent net zero roadmap concluded no new fossil fuel permissions should be given if global net zero is to be reached.
On low-carbon solutions, the Energy Barometer shows that sentiment is positive on policy around renewables (76 per cent) and low-carbon transport (60 per cent) and is moderately strong in relation to hydrogen (55 per cent) and CCUS (48 per cent). Confidence in achieving carbon targets is low with 51 per cent agreeing that the UK will miss its 2030 target and 85 per cent not confident about 2050.