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Implementing The Uk’s Energy Transition

April 17, 2024

The UK is gearing up for the biggest shift in energy production since the Industrial Revolution. Making the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy is not just a preferable outcome, it’s the only viable way forward if we are to meet our goals of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

At present, just over 40% of our energy requirements are met by renewables, including wind, biomass and solar. The clock is ticking to help increase this to 100% so we can stop the use of fossil fuels that are driving climate change. The end goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming.

In order to keep global warming below 1.5℃, we need to make 2025 the year that our greenhouse gas emissions reach their peak. We then need to commit to reducing emissions by around 43% by the year 2030. 

The simplest way to achieve this will be to switch to powering homes, businesses and industry with renewable energy sources. Here’s what this implementation strategy could look like over the coming years and how this will impact recruitment in the energy sector.

Strategy

In order to reach net-zero targets, the government, businesses, financiers and citizens will need to work together towards a common goal. It will require top-level strategy to create the framework for an economy that runs entirely on renewable energy. 

It will also require buy-in from individuals, as this shift is going to prompt huge changes in the ways we live. For example, decommissioning the use of domestic gas central heating will mark a huge shift in the way we heat our homes.

The most promising sources of renewable energy at present are wind and solar energy. However, more needs to be done to make these sources more reliable so they can be called on during peak times.

A shift towards deep sea wind farms with floating foundations will help us to harness more energy from the wind, but this will also need to be paired with improved energy storage. Deep sea locations could unlock up to 80% more capacity from the wind, but at present the trend is for fixed bottom foundations, which can only be placed in more shallow waters.

Storage still presents a big challenge, as we need to be able to use the energy on demand and then also store energy to deal with spikes in demand. Energy storage could be considered on a large scale, or it could be implemented on a smaller scale, allowing individual homes with solar panels to store up energy to be used at will.

We’ll also need changes to our homes if we are to move away from gas central heating. A large-scale campaign of switching to fully electric heating systems and heat pumps will require widespread support from the public. At present heat pumps are commonly cited as being too expensive and not efficient enough to be a worthwhile switch.

Private investment

These projects will never get off the ground without considerable private investment. Thankfully, there is a huge appetite for projects like offshore wind farms, particularly into research and development for floating foundation farms which can be placed in deeper seas.

At COP26, around 450 global companies across 45 countries agreed to sign up to the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ). This alliance aims to deliver and manage around £96 trillion worth of investment towards achieving net zero goals.

Private investment also drives the creation of new jobs, which will in turn strengthen the economy and help to direct attention towards these projects. With the right strategic planning, the switch towards a National Grid powered entirely by renewables could help to deliver incredible returns for investors.

Driving innovation

This challenge is not simply a case of updating and implementing technology that we already have. It will also require ongoing research, development and innovation to help ensure these solutions are fit for purpose. 

Consumers will be unwilling to support policies that reduce their quality of life, and therefore politicians will be unwilling to back policy changes that make them unpopular and unelectable. There needs to be widespread support for green policy and the switch to renewables across industry and in our homes.

There will be widespread opportunities for individuals that want to work in research and development to help implement these changes and bridge the gap between where we are and where we need to be. Examples of ongoing opportunities in development include floating offshore wind farm development, home heat pumps, and renewable energy storage.

Addressing the skills gap

We won’t be able to achieve these goals unless we hugely ramp up the number of skilled engineers and innovators in this sector. There will need to be more investment in STEM subjects at school and university level to help inspire a generation of young people to start thinking about these career paths from a young age.

There also needs to be a drive to encourage more young girls to think about STEM careers, as this would be a simple and effective way to boost the number of qualified workers in this field. If uptake at university level was closer to 50:50 balance between genders, this could help to close key skills gaps. It will also help to create the pipeline required for more women to take on leadership roles in the green energy switch.

Opportunities

As you can see, there are ample opportunities for young people entering the sector but also for those thinking about how they can retrain and put their knowledge to work in a green energy role. The energy sector employs a large number of people within the fossil fuel sector, and these people will all be looking for training and development opportunities that will enable them to switch focus to green solutions.

Rather than filling workforces with recent graduates that are new to the sector, companies will also need to look for ways to retrain and redeploy workers from the fossil fuel sector. These individuals will have unique insight into challenges facing the sector that will be essential to observe moving forward.

Closing thoughts

The challenge of meeting net zero targets by 2050 looms large, but it certainly isn’t an insurmountable task. With government level strategy, private investment and support from ordinary people, there is no reason the UK cannot switch to a more sustainable economy that places the survival of the planet before profits.

Energy sector workers will be pivotal for these changes, so it’s vital for companies to start addressing skills gaps now. Starting with the pipeline of high school students that choose to study engineering roles at university, and then looking at how to redeploy current workers in the fossil fuel industry, we can start to close the gaps that could stifle innovation and development.

The technology available today isn’t perfect, so there will need to be ongoing research and development into more efficient ways to capture, store and utilise energy from renewable sources. 

Organisations will also need to look at ways to make these changes attractive to consumers so that they don’t feel their standard of life will be impacted by the changes. This will require PR campaigns to bolster support for green energy initiatives and the politicians that support them.

Nolan Recruitment is a Specialist Engineering Recruitment Agency. One of the UK's best Engineering & Technical Recruiter

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