With the world’s highest level of energy penetration of onshore wind power, and even more ambitious targets to meet, Mark Ruane of Wind Energy Ireland and Network Manager of Green Tech Skillnet, discusses the skills Ireland needs to keep the wind energy revolution on track.
Ireland is on the cusp of an energy revolution. Last year, wind energy provided over one third of our electricity. Representing the highest level of energy penetration of onshore wind power in the world, this makes Ireland a global leader in renewable energy.
With ambitious targets outlined in the Climate Action Plan – including a commitment to achieving 70% renewable electricity by 2030 – continuing this move towards renewable energy sources will be critical.
While the benefits to our climate and economy will be unparalleled, the challenge of achieving these carbon reduction targets remains significant. Entire sectors will undergo radical change resulting in the creation of new jobs and the transformation of existing ones.
The 70by30 target – achieving 70% renewable energy by 2030 – will reduce CO2 emissions in electricity generation by 66%, dropping from 12 Mt to 4-5 Mt annually, representing more savings than any other sector. Mainly driven by replacing fossil fuels with clean electricity, the reduction will save the Irish economy an additional €1 billion on imported fossil fuels each year and equates to removing all cars off Irish roads.
Already an ambitious target, it comes as energy demand is surging. To meet the forecasted growth in demand, including from data centres and electric vehicles, the Climate Action Plan envisages an additional 12GW of renewable energy capacity coming online by 2030 – a four-fold increase on Ireland’s existing capacity of 3,000 MW.
To meet this required increase, Ireland will connect a new generation of offshore wind farms over the coming decade, providing enormous amounts of clean energy to homes and businesses. With an offshore wind energy pipeline of more than 15 GW at various stages of development, Ireland will have an energy surplus. With the necessary levels of interconnection, there’s potential for Ireland to become a consistent net energy exporter for the first time. Beyond 2030, as the costs of developing and connecting floating offshore wind energy continue to fall, progress towards a net-zero electricity system will become inevitable.
Delivering the renewable generation infrastructure required to meet these targets will require significant strategic investment which will in turn create an enormous opportunity for Ireland’s workforce.
Skills Needs and Workforce Design
Ireland’s offshore wind opportunity is expected to create around 6,000 direct jobs and 9,000 indirect jobs. With roles varying from legal and financial experts to a full range of engineers and biologists, logistics experts, health and safety experts, administrators, alongside technical roles like ship crew, construction crew, turbine technicians, electricians, drivers and security, the skills challenge is significant.
While the outlook is predominantly positive, the sector is already starting to experience skills shortages with a considerable number of roles being filled by teams of technicians who are temporarily deployed here. With installed capacity expected to triple by 2030, we expect there will be a huge shortage of talent to build, operate, and maintain these new wind turbines.
The pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of having the skills available in Ireland to support local infrastructure. It may not be possible or practical to recruit workers from overseas to fill positions which, with the right training opportunities, could be filled by Irish-based workers. It is essential to ensure the skills are available to build, manage, and maintain electricity assets for our current and future infrastructure.
Addressing Skills Gaps
Green Tech Skillnet is taking steps to address these skills gaps and future skill needs. Over the past three years, we have provided essential renewable energy training to more than 3,700 participants over a wide range of professions including turbine technicians, high voltage operators, PV and micro grid installers, policy, finance, planning, energy markets, and management.
Renewable energy consultancy Ionic Consulting joined the Green Tech Skillnet in 2009 and are one many leading member companies influencing the landscape of the sector.
Brendan Heneghan, Operations Director at Ionic Consulting says:
“In the rapidly growing and changing renewable energy sector, bridging the skills gap and providing regular high-quality training and upskilling for people already working in the sector is essential if Ireland is to meet its ambitious renewable energy targets for 2030.”
“Green Tech Skillnet is an invaluable training resource for the sector in Ireland and has been an integral part of the training and development plans of our company. The unrivalled access to the best trainers and most up-to-date training courses has been a major benefit to our business and the businesses we work with.”
In 2020, supported by Skillnet Ireland, Green Tech Skillnet developed three training and work placement programmes for both technical and professional careers in renewable energy. With sixty graduates in 2020 from our wind turbine technician programme and transitional professional skills programme, we’re aiming to double this figure in 2021 and to expand our newest programme for jobseekers who are keen to develop a career in the renewable energy sector.
We have developed transitional courses to enable employees that are new to the sector to adapt their skills to the wind industry. We are also continuing our research on future skills needs to inform our development of a suite of specialist programmes providing essential training that meets business needs and demands of the renewable energy sector.
Making Targets a Reality
The roadmap toward net zero has been significantly bolstered by renewed commitment at government level and while policy-makers will guide the transition, it is ultimately businesses and the workforce that will deliver it.
Wind energy is Ireland’s leading indigenous energy industry. As the demand for clean, renewable power rises, it will treble in size over the next ten years. With this growth comes an enormous opportunity for people who want to play their part in an industry leading the fight against climate change as well as an enormous challenge of equipping them with the skills they need to make targets a reality.