Job opportunities from a pipeline of ‘shovel-ready’ renewable energy projects could help replace 90% of the 700,000 jobs lost in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic, states a report from EY-Parthenon, Ernst & Young’s global strategy consulting arm.

Commissioned by the European Climate Foundation, a philanthropic organisation working towards a net-zero emissions society, the report reveals a pipeline of 668 renewable energy projects in generation, storage, distribution and transmission in the UK. These projects are expected to create 625,000 – mainly vocational – jobs around the country in the next two to three years. This figure is more than double the number of jobs supported by the offshore UK oil and gas sector, according to the report.

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EY-Parthenon highlights an investment opportunity worth $190bn and a potential reduction in annual CO2 emissions of 82 tonnes (t). This would represent a decline of 22% compared with annual emissions of 379t today. The projects would also boost British renewable generation capacity by 43GW by 2030.

The absolute number of jobs created will depend largely on the UK’s ability to strengthen its renewable energy supply chain, says Stephan Jensen, one of the report’s authors. He cites the Humber region on the north-east coast of England as an example of how developing regional supply chains can boost local jobs and the community. Humber’s ports, traditionally used for shipping steel and timber, have enabled the region to become a hub for the offshore wind sector, with Siemens Gamesa and Orsted establishing manufacturing and maintenance facilities there.

Home to six operational offshore wind farms, the region is one of four industrial clusters in the UK leading the bid to be low-carbon. With ambitions to deliver 10GW of deployed capacity by 2030, from 219MW today, the Humber will be key to reaching the UK government’s commitment to 40GW of offshore energy capacity by 2030.

Queen Elizabeth II visiting the Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy wind turbine blade factory in Kingston upon Hull, northern England. (Lindsey Parnaby/AFP via Getty Images).

The city of Hull, which suffered numerous social and economic problems as its once-vibrant fishing industry was decimated, has experienced substantial job growth and inward investment over the last 12 years thanks to the arrival of the wind industry. The Siemens Gamesa renewable energy blade factory brought £310m of investment to the city, creating 1,100 direct jobs and scores more across the wider supply chain.

Bridging the skills gap

Another challenge the UK must overcome is the skills gap. An estimated 3.2 million workers will need to increase their skill level or retrain to meet the government’s commitment to decarbonise by 2050, states a report from think tank Onward. Engineers, electricians and scientists will increasingly work in low-carbon sectors, such as hydrogen or energy efficiency, and the workforce must cater to growing demand for data and digital skills.

This change needs to happen quickly, says former National Grid CEO Steve Holliday. “We often hear about the long lead times involved in building a new power plant," he says. "But the lead times required to bring on a heat pump installer or wind turbine engineer are as long if not longer."

The Energy Barometer 2021 report, based on responses from more than 400 professionals in the UK energy system, shows there will be significant internal movement within the energy sector workforce by 2030. Slightly more than half of those  surveyed had either switched to a new field of energy or planned to move in the next decade. A total of 57% will pursue training in the next year because of the government's net-zero ambition. However, half of the interviewees were concerned about the costs, timing and availability of training courses. The majority said responsibility for retraining workers falls to the government, calling for a clear national skills strategy to underpin the development of low-carbon energy supply chains.

"In the transition over the coming decades, roles in energy intensive industries, fossil fuel production and their supply chains will change markedly, and so it is vital for reskilling to keep pace,” says Rob Gross, former director of the UK Energy Research Centre.