Supply and demand

With the need to meet demanding targets, the ‘green collar’ industry is going through a period of dramatic growth, and seeks an army of recruits with the right skills. Julia Pierce reports.

With high oil and gas prices dominating the headlines, the issue of the future of the UK’s energy supplies is being pushed to the fore.

the potential of the country’s renewable energy sector — tidal, wave and wind — is well placed to meet the challenge of ensuring that as much power as possible is generated from sustainable resources within the UK’s boundaries, creating hundreds of engineering vacancies as a result.

Already, it is estimated that around 3,000 extra offshore wind turbines will be needed to help the UK towards meeting its proposed EU target of 15 per cent of total energy being generated from renewable sources by 2020.

Energy minister Malcolm Wicks said expansion of wind power alone could create up to 30,000 new jobs in the north-east, many of which would require advanced engineering skills. Meanwhile, among other projects, work to determine the potential of a tidal energy generator in the Severn Estuary is continuing, and planning permission has been granted for a prototype tidal stream generator to be tested in the Humber Estuary near Grimsby.

Firms within the sector are expanding rapidly and recruiting heavily as a result. Siemens has plans to grow by 17 per cent within the energy sector over the next year, followed by an annual ongoing growth of around 10 per cent. ‘At the moment around 95 per cent of our renewable energy activity is in wind power,’ said Fraser Shearer, strategic head of resource management.

‘We will be looking for around 300 extra people in this business over the next two to three years. The sector is going through a period of dramatic growth — we have plans to build facilities capable of generating as much as that generated by all our renewable energy facilities built over the past 10 years.’

Centrica is working on a variety of wind projects and its related services ranging from onshore cables and substation work to subsea cables, foundation and turbines. ‘As with the current Lynn and Inner Dowsing projects being developed off the Lincolnshire coast, specialist contractors are being sought through a tendering process,’ said Centrica’s head of renewables Alan Thompson. ‘Centrica is expanding its renewables team to manage this process,’ he added.

The company is seeking experienced project managers and engineers who are used to running a project from inception, through initial design, procurement, contract negotiation and finalisation and on into supervision and administration of the contract activities on major infrastructure projects.

‘Four years ago Centrica committed to make a significant development in renewables assets as part of its energy portfolio,’ explained Thompson. ‘The company sees the development of renewables as a crucial part of its future energy portfolio.

‘This will help not only to deliver challenging EU and UK government targets for the reduction of carbon emissions from power generation, but also improve security of supply as the UK becomes increasingly dependent on imports of gas. Until recently, the country was self sufficient in gas, but by 2020 it is estimated that as much as 75 per cent of our gas will need to be imported. We anticipate investing around £1.5bn in the development of current assets.’

Meanwhile, UK-based renewable energy development company Renewable Energy Systems (RES) is looking for electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, civil/ structural engineers, electro-mechanical engineers, power systems analysts, grid engineers, project engineers for both site and construction, site managers, turbine engineers, CAD engineers and technicians.

Although a renewable energy background is ideal, as their emphasis is on finding recruits with the right skills and adding further training for their specific role on the job a background in any comparable sectors such as the utilities, oil and gas, marine, aerospace, or environmental will be considered. RES is also seeking electrical engineers from almost any background, especially those with SAP skills.

With great demand to ‘go green’ from both the public and policy makers, previous barriers to the expansion of renewable energy, such as problems with planning policy, the need for significant investment in the electricity grid, supply chain issues and systems of financial support for the less advanced technologies and for renewable heat generation are now being addressed.

‘Strategies for the increase of renewable energy generating capacity at local and national levels are being drawn up across the globe and this will create exciting opportunities for businesses and for those committed to a career in the sector,’ said Jack Noakes, RES group chief engineer.

One such company with a range of opportunities on offer is npower renewables. ‘Most of our engineers are focused on the construction and operation of our wind and hydro plant,’ said HR manager Rachel Heaford. ‘For operational plant we generally look for civil or mechanical engineering experience — ideally within a similar sector. Mechanical, electrical and civil engineers are employed in the projects team, responsible for the construction of our wind and hydro plant.

‘These roles can either be as technical specialists or as project managers with responsibility for different aspects of these projects. Our technology team, which supports the development and operations teams, also contains a number of engineers from varying backgrounds, including aerospace and acoustic specialists.’

As well as growth created by European targets for the increase in renewable energy generation and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, as part of RWE Innogy — of which npower renewables is the UK division — the company is set to reap the benefit of heavy investment in renewables over the coming years by its parent company, with planned annual investments of around €1bn (£790m).

With the need to meet demanding generation targets, innovation is a key focus of operators. ‘Many engineers want to work in renewables — it’s an exciting and fast- moving industry to be involved in,’ said Heaford.

‘For example, we are currently collaborating with Inverness-based technology company Wavegen to develop the Siadar Wave Energy Project (SWEP) a 4MW pilot scheme based on new oscillating water column technology. We have also announced a pioneering partnership with Marine Current Turbines to help deliver one of the world’s first commercial-scale tidal stream projects off the Anglesey coast.’

As the industry is still relatively small, there is also the chance to be involved at all stages of a project. ‘We offer opportunities for engineers to develop their entire career within RES and the renewables sector and the ability to become involved in all aspects of projects,’ said RES HR director Gary Robinson.

Such credentials are a definite attraction, said Bob Cunningham, director of recruitment specialists Bob Cunningham Associates. He is helping marine power generation specialist Aquamarine Power recruit engineering managers and project engineers for tidal and wave power projects.

‘The market is very buoyant,’ said Cunningham. ‘Although the oil and gas industry is taking many engineers, people are keen to move into renewables for ethical reasons.’

Meanwhile, given the level of both public and government support for the industry, this is a good time to transfer into the sector, as Robinson noted. ‘The government recognises the huge potential for “green-collar jobs”,’ he said. ‘It is a win-win situation — bringing environmental and economic benefits, plus an exciting time.’