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Offshore wind and offshore oil - a shared sea and a shared workforce

Posted By Maf Smith, 22 April 2016
Updated: 02 June 2016
We’re proud to be the world leader in offshore wind – a technology which we started installing in British waters in the early 2000s. Sharing space out at sea is the UK’s world leading oil and gas sector which has been an important part of the UK economy since the 1960s. We are two industries both delivering economic success for the country.

However, right now the UK’s oil & gas industry is facing one of the greatest crises in its history, and low international oil prices are impacting on investment and employment. Many in the industry are thinking long and hard about the industry’s long-term prospects. Hardest hit have been cities like Aberdeen but the impact has been felt in coastal communities from Shetland to Lowestoft.

There is some hope, however, for the many experienced oil industry employees who may be worried about the future. That hope comes from offshore wind.

In January, the Government announced work on a “UK Oil & Gas Workforce Plan” to examine, among other things, how it can support workers who have lost their jobs, or may be in danger of doing so. RenewableUK has taken an active role in this process, helping Government identify the scale of the opportunity presented by offshore wind for former employees in oil & gas.

Offshore wind already contributes 5% of the UK’s electricity and supports around 15,000 people in employment. By the end of this decade the UK’s offshore wind sector will double in size, and there are opportunities in construction and operation of a growing number of sites. New offshore projects in development are exponentially larger than existing wind farms in terms of size and scale. These power plants will need huge numbers of highly skilled individuals to be built. Offshore wind farms have long development programmes, a construction phase of two to three years, and an operating lifetime of 20 to 25 years. For example, ScottishPower Renewables is currently developing its East Anglia One offshore wind farm; a £2.5 billion investment requiring an estimated 3,000 skilled employees.

This is where oil & gas comes in. The UK is perfectly placed to take advantage of its 40 years of offshore expertise by easing the transition for workers from fossil fuels into renewables. We have already seen traditional developers, such as Statoil and Repsol, diversify into offshore wind as early movers in the sector, while underneath we have a large supply chain of offshore contractors with a track record of winning work in offshore wind and oil and gas.

As the industry grows so it is learning from oil and gas about how to operate safely at sea. A great example is the use of helicopters by our industry for construction and maintenance work, with helicopter firms now active in the wind market.

There is a great opportunity for establishing a clearer path to retrain workers for a life in clean energy. This means providing resources for people who may not be aware of the opportunities to make the transition. Their experience working in other parts of the offshore energy sector is highly sought after, with the aptitude, professionalism and transferable skills all valued highly in offshore wind.

The practical work of our industry to support workers in transition comes in many forms. UK companies take their supply chain responsibilities seriously and are active in supporting UK firms win contracts. As an industry we run regular supply chain events to help companies and future employees understand about how to go about winning work. We have an annual skills fare putting companies and potential employees together while also providing advice and background to those wanting to move into our industry. And we work across training providers to make sure that there is good training available which is accredited to a suitable standard. A good place for individuals to start is the careers section of our webpage which provides information on apprenticeships, qualifications needed and has a jobs board of available work.

There is a lot that individuals can do for themselves to win work in this exciting industry. The Government’s work however is a vital part of coordinating efforts to support oil & gas industry employees, and it is equally important for offshore wind. Our sector is proud to be part of the solution for hardworking energy sector workers and their families.

This blog first appeared in BusinessGreen.

Tags:  government  Offshore Wind  oil  Scotland  Scottish Renewables 

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Scotland's forward-thinking message on renewables

Posted By Maf Smith, 04 December 2015
Updated: 15 March 2016
Last night, Scottish Renewables hosted its 14th Scottish Green Energy Awards in Edinburgh. I need to confess I’ve always had a soft spot for the event, having been there right at the start and being one of a small team who established and grew the awards in the early 2000s.

Today the Awards are a major enterprise in their own right, and it’s remarkable to see their scale. That shows you how far we have come, and how important Scotland is to the renewable industry. Renewables can now provide a quarter of UK power needs. In Scotland they provide 50%. That’s a major achievement delivered over the last 15 or so years, and tracked faithfully by this awards dinner.

Now I spend most of my time outside of Scotland what I value about the Awards is how well they remind you of the positive differences being made. As one of the judges for the Awards themselves, I’ve been part of the discussions about shortlisted projects, and who should be the winner we select. It’s a real privilege, because it brings you back to what we are here for: making a positive difference to people’s lives and our environment.

Let’s take just a few examples from last night’s winners. First how about Beinn Ghrideag wind farm? It’s the UK’s largest community owned wind farm, and the Point and Sandwick community in the Western Isles worked for 10 years on their project. The scheme has been generating since September, and has already earmarked £700,000 of funding to a local hospice, energy efficiency, young people and arts and culture. It’s a great example of how renewable energy can help secure the economic future of such communities.

Or Green Marine and Leask Marine; two companies jointly given the Award for Best Supplier. Both companies are based in Orkney and have grown to serve the hugely important wave and tidal sector now present around those islands. There is a huge pride in these family firms building a future from our industry, and developing world class expertise at the same time.

Or Sgurr Energy, one of Scotland’s most successful renewable energy companies. Sgurr was started by Ian Irvine and Steve McDonald back in 2002, and they won the Best New Business back at the 2004 Awards. Now they have won for Export Achievement. As an employer with over 250 staff working around the globe, it wasn’t surprising that Ian Irvine wasn’t there to collect the award, being away in China hard at work.

My personal favourite award was the Judges Award which went to Highlands and Islands Enterprise. HIE are 50 years old this year so it was an appropriate time to celebrate all that they do for our industry. As an enterprise body they show the very best of the public sector; always wanting to push things on, find ways to tackle problems and make a difference to communities and businesses across northern Scotland. At RenewableUK we see many great examples of work by local enterprise partnerships and other agencies, but HIE remains something special. If the UK Government could drink from the HIE water cooler for just one day, imagine the difference it could make.

I write this because HIE has shown that partnership matters. Industry and public bodies working together with a common purpose to bring economic, social and environmental benefits. For HIE, renewable energy is an obvious choice as an economic opportunity given the fantastic resource there. But many seem oblivious to what renewable energy has helped us achieve.

Perhaps I can end with a simple example to illustrate how Scotland gets it, whereas others seem clueless. Today the GMB’s Chief Paul Kenny was in The Sun bemoaning wind energy and saying that “nuclear and gas are the only shows in town”. His figures don’t stack up by the way, but what he doesn’t seem to get is that there is employment to be had from development of gas, nuclear and renewables. His Scottish colleagues seem to get this however. At the same time as Paul was complaining loudly in The Sun, his Scottish colleagues were arguing that fabrication jobs for a new generation of floating offshore wind farms should come to Scottish yards. So Scottish union reps are doing their bit to fight for new jobs in Scotland. Their colleagues in their London offices are doing their bit to chase these jobs away.

Put like that it's simple isn’t it. Renewables are an opportunity. Anyone looking to pass that up would do well to put their name down for a place at next year’s Scottish Green Energy Awards and see first-hand how this is an opportunity already delivering and making many people proud.

Tags:  Green Energy Awards  Scottish Renewables 

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