Sowing renewables skills

Schneider Electric, renewable energy

As we progress towards the Government’s vision for a low-carbon Britain, there is a vast amount of work to be done. However, with an ageing workforce and skill set and a shortage of new recruits, there is concern that there may not be enough energy professionals out there at a time when they are needed most. David Lewis offers advice on how building operators can expand their expertise and embrace the opportunities presented by the growing energy market.

The Government’s target of reducing the UK’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 80% by 2050 is by no means an easy one. As the first country to set legally binding carbon reductions, it means that quite literally every tonne of CO2 emitted between now and then will count; should emissions rise in one sector, corresponding falls will have to be achieved in another.

The transition will see a complete transformation of our power infrastructure with a focus on wind and other renewable-energy sources. Plus, gas will play an integral role in generating electricity and as back-up for renewables which are intermittent. Coincidentally, a number of the UK’s oldest power stations are closing as they have failed to meet EU requirements, whilst many nuclear power stations now require a complete rebuild.

Adding further fuel to the fire is a resounding consumer backing. One recent poll revealed that 78% of people want low-carbon sources to power Britain in the future, whilst a separate study showed 79% support renewable energy.*

The consensus then is that we are on the verge of an energy revolution which, of course, brings with it jobs and economic revival. However, the question begs whether we have sufficient skills set to achieve this vision. Not according to the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), which warns that the lack of people with the necessary skills is actually a bigger problem than resource depletion when it comes to moving to a zero-carbon society.

The onus then is on engineers to take action now and widen their breadth of knowledge and expertise on sustainable strategy, going beyond the traditional remit to effectively position themselves as energy advisors.

Here, significant investment in training is key. Whilst for a time, many companies have put training firmly on the backburner in a bid to save money amid the tough economy, it is actually now more important than ever. Whilst universities can continue to produce top-quality graduates, engineering companies have a duty to ‘sell’ the industry and enhance the depth of knowledge in green engineering.

The good news is that there is a raft of resources out there. At the first point, some of the UK’s leading trade bodies, such as the Institution of Engineering & Technology (IET) and the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) offer training courses on all aspects of sustainable engineering. The upshot is that engineers are enabled with the knowledge to optimise use of energy materials, to mitigate any associated environmental impacts and to embrace concepts such as life cycle analysis and recycling within the design process.

Added to this is a raft of individual courses centred on specific elements of the green agenda such as energy management, renewables and electric-vehicle charging infrastructure, so installers can add to their green credentials.

Schneider Electric, renewable energy
Training opportunities are widely offered by companies, such as Schneider Electric’s Energy University.

In larger corporations there should also be the opportunity for internal training. Here, choosing the right training partner is crucial, and there are many resources that businesses can draw on such as internal programmes, industry associations or Government-backed initiatives like the National Skills Academies. Using an accredited body will ensure that the programme, associated resources and processes have been recognised by an industry body and courses checked.

In addition, some companies have invested heavily in developing free training opportunities. Schneider Electric, for example, offers Energy University — a free online educational community to help anyone involved in energy management through unbiased, up-to-date, technical information. With more than a hundred courses, the website covers everything from energy-efficiency fundamentals through to more complex issues, such as measuring and benchmarking energy performance. Adding further credibility, the courses have also received the Construction CPD Certification Service accreditation so that everyone who completes a course can receive CPD points.

It is the younger generation, after all, which has the biggest role to play in realising our collective vision for a decarbonised, greener Britain. Therefore, as we press ahead with ambitious Government targets, it is vital to provide the training, stimulus and innovation to ensure we have the brightest talent as we work towards a brighter future.

David Lewis is marketing development manager for energy efficiency at Schneider Electric.

For more information please visit the link below. Alternatively, follow on twitter @SchneiderUK or Facebook ElectricUK.

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