Engineers and geoscientists need new skills for a renewable future

The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy can mean developing new digital skills – but which skills and how?

energy transformation image

The world is in the midst of a massive energy transformation that is uniquely challenging — yet full of opportunities.

The move from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is driven by technology, changes in the economic and political landscape, environmental concerns, and demand for greater convenience. For engineers, it means — among other things — managing a skills gap.

Fortunately, information resources — including our engineering solution Knovel — can provide cutting-edge knowledge and information tools to help professionals looking to reskill for the energy transition.

Reflecting the scale of this transition is the steady increase in spending. The last decade has seen a significant rise in new global investment in clean energy, with overall spending to the tune of $300 billion or more most years. Particular focus of this investment has been on spending for solar, wind and energy-smart technologies.

Spending on the energy transition is growing. (Source: <a href="" target="_blank">BloombergNEF</a>)

Skills needed for a renewable future

But the energy transformation that is now in motion doesn’t just need money and industry commitment — it is going to require a lot of skilled workers. Many will be needed in areas like construction, installation, maintenance and transportation, and to perform site selections and assessments. But there will also be a demand for hundreds of thousands of workers with computer and mathematical skills.

Unfortunately, there is currently a digital transformation skills gap. According to this 2020 EY report on O&G digital transformation and the workforce, the oil and gas sector has a gap between skill importance and current maturity for some computer/digital skills that is startling:

  • Digital engineering – 68% importance vs 31% maturity
  • Data science – 85% importance vs 23% maturity
  • Artificial intelligence – 68% importance vs 9% maturity
  • Data analytics – 91% importance vs 32% maturity

Adapting to the energy transformation will be an ongoing effort, but make no mistake — it’s already ramping up in a major way. Renewables sector employment topped 10 million in 2018, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Breaking it down by technology, solar photovoltaic is employing the most by far, followed by liquid biofuels, hydropower, and wind energy.

Making the transition to renewable energy

Moving to renewable energy sources doesn’t have to mean starting from scratch, as there is already overlap in many areas. A notable example is between offshore oil and wind: Existing experience and operations for building offshore oil platforms can be leveraged for offshore wind services. In fact, IRENA estimates that about 40% of the full lifetime costs of an offshore wind project, including construction and maintenance, have significant synergies with the offshore O&G sector.

Important scientific data, including geoscience and environmental data, will be needed to choose sites for offshore wind projects and to determine feasibility. Solutions like Geofacets can assist companies in accessing this essential information, helping them to quickly find high-quality, relevant geoscience, geotechnical and geospacial data needed during the development phase of these projects.

Other sectors may be more challenging. The US electric grid, for instance, wasn’t built for renewables. There is a lack of connectivity in the grid currently to allow for different regions to support each another, so modernizing it will be a critical project — but well worth the effort.

Consider the many ways that a modernized grid supports renewables:

  • Reliability enhancements
  • Connecting to renewables
  • Increased responsiveness
  • Pollution credit trading
  • Energy storage
  • Data analytics
  • Self-reporting errors
  • Remote metering
  • Distributed generation and resilient microgrids
  • Linking the regional grids
  • Increased operational flexibility

The energy transition overall will have many large-scale benefits to offer. Europe, for example, is likely to enjoy everything from an increase in jobs to a decrease in energy dependency.

Learn more in the webinar

You can find out more about how oil and gas teams can prepare for the energy transformation to renewables in this recent webinar: How can oil & gas teams prepare for energy transformation to renewables. It covers technical skills and occupational needs in renewable energy, how renewables can be utilized to offset O&G production costs, and much more.

Watch the webinar


Jim Harper
Written by

Jim Harper

Written by

Jim Harper

Jim Harper has been helping engineers build a better world since 1996. He began as an editorial assistant for engineering books at Chapman & Hall in 1996, moving to acquire books on civil, environmental, and geotechnical engineering, GIS, construction, horticulture, and BIM at John Wiley & Sons. Joining Knovel in 2010, he is now a Senior Product Manager responsible for content, new partnerships and new product development.

Sandra Merten, PhD
Written by

Sandra Merten, PhD

Written by

Sandra Merten, PhD

Dr Sandra Merten joined Elsevier in 2010 and is responsible for the ongoing development of Geofacets. She has managed the successful release of several major Geofacets product enhancements, including the launch of more than 1 million easy-to-access figures and tables and a redesigned user interface. In her current role as Senior Product Manager, she focuses on the development of information- and analytical decision-support solutions and services to help answer applied geoscience problems in the industry and academia with a strong focus on the energy transition.

Sandra has an MSc in Structural Geology & Tectonics and a PhD in Thermochronology & Tectonics from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

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