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Engineers and geoscientists need new skills for a renewable future

June 16, 2021

By Jim Harper, Sandra Merten, PhD

Image of Oil Rig surrounded with windmill

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

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(opens in new tab/window) or more most years. Particular focus of this investment has been on spending for solar, wind and energy-smart technologies.

Graphical interpretation in Global new investment in clean energy

Spending on the energy transition is growing. (Source: BloombergNEF(opens in new tab/window))

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(opens in new tab/window), 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(opens in new tab/window) (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.

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(opens in new tab/window).

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(opens in new tab/window). It covers technical skills and occupational needs in renewable energy, how renewables can be utilized to offset O&G production costs, and much more.