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The idea of an energy transition has gained a lot of traction in the last few years, having barely been spoken about just a few years ago. The levers of the energy transition are varied but this indicates the interconnectedness of the shift to net zero, which is why this podcast was launched: to connect the dots of the energy transition and show how it is all interrelated.
Listen and subscribe to Watt Matters wherever you get podcasts! Follow us on Twitter at @WattMattersPodor email us at email@example.com
Wind energy is breaking new ground. From a niche technology, it has evolved into a mainstream player that provides 12% of Europe’s electricity. Wind energy continues to grow not just in Europe but all over the world. Technology continues to advance, costs continue to fall and, crucially, wind energy is expanding its reach beyond the power sector and showing how it will play a key role in decarbonising heating, transport and industrial processes. In short, wind energy has gone mainstream.
This is both an opportunity and a challenge.
A challenge because this rapid development requires new skills and competences from people working in or entering the industry. To ensure it recruits people with the right skills — and that these people exist in the first place — the wind industry is looking at how it does its talent spotting, adapting its human resource strategies and looking at how educational needs are reflected in academic programmes.
Digitalisation and new technologies mean wind energy is becoming increasingly technologically advanced. The German engineering association, VDMA, is doing great work in helping the German government with its Industry 4.0 strategy to ensure young people are gaining the skills and vocational training that will enable them to flourish in tomorrow’s labour market. We, like other industries, also need to be conscious of the impacts of robotisation. The increasing automation of processes will inevitably mean that some jobs will go, but others will be created by the digital revolution and the move to a clean energy economy.
And the wind industry is in competition with other sectors to prove it is a hotbed of innovation and an exciting place for young and more experienced people to work. Industry and academia, through fora such as the Global Wind Summit that will take place in Hamburg next week, are coming together to look at how to continue to attract the top scientific brains to the wind industry.
Just as important as the issue of skills is that of diversity and whether the wind industry can attract people from different backgrounds to ensure the best ideas and solutions are found. This includes being an attractive employer for women. In a sector that is so dominated by engineers, many of which tend to be men, we again need to work in partnership with others, such as engineering schools, to see how we can attract more women to the profession.
And wind technology is also facing a challenge of perception more widely. As it evolves and matures, it may be less likely to be perceived as in need of support and this may have repercussions on public funding, for example. Yet, investment in research and development, and in innovation, is key if the wind sector is to continue to develop and to provide even more technologically advanced and cheaper power, and to create jobs.
There is also a geo-cultural challenge. From what was an almost exclusively European affair, wind energy is now flourishing from Brazil to China and everywhere in between. As the wind industry goes global, it is confronted by new questions, not least the different demands made of the industry in different countries and how it can manage them while attempting to ensure a coherent global working culture.
There are no easy solutions to these challenges, but working in partnership with players in and outside the wind industry is vital for solutions to be found and for the industry to continue to grow with the right people on board. The wind industry has dealt successfully with many tricky questions since its inception and will continue to do so in its more mature years.
This article is part of a series published by FORESIGHT Climate & Energy in the lead up to Global Wind Summit 2018, held from 25-28 September in Hamburg, Germany.
Mega Tech: Technology in 2050
Edited by Daniel Franklin
Business newspaper The Economist has brought together a set of short essays by journalists, scientists, philosophers and entrepreneurs that examine the technology likely to shape the world between now and 2050. The essay on energy and the rise of renewables is unlikely to teach FORESIGHT readers much, but it is interesting to see the context in which the transition is taking place, the importance that will be placed on energy efficiency in this brave new world and the emphasis on the role we all have — individuals, governments and companies — in creating it.
We do things differently: The outsider rebooting the world
By Mark Stevenson
The individual is at the heart of these readable and inspirational essays about people around the world who are shaking up the status quo and creating new ways of working and thinking. Several of them focus on energy, telling the stories of individuals, such as Peter Vadasz, the former mayor of a small Austrian town that now generates and distributes its own energy, and James Johnston of London-based Open Utility, a company working to allow consumers to “access energy on the grid, the way you access information on the internet”. A good dose of optimism.
Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming
Edited by Paul Hawken
Leading climate and energy experts from the worlds of academia, business, policy and not-for-profit have come together to produce this impressive tome of the “top 100 solutions” to climate change. Covering energy, food, women and girls, land use, transport, buildings and cities, and materials, each sector details challenges, costs, solutions and case studies. An impressive undertaking that wouldn’t go amiss on the desk of every policy maker.
By Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright
Climate change and its effects will shape the entire world order in the future, argue these two US professors. The authors suggest the world is heading towards “Climate Leviathan,” a system of global capitalism governed by a planetary sovereign and epitomised by international pacts like the Paris climate agreement, but also posit other, grimmer, possible outcomes. While many FORESIGHT readers may disagree with the authors’ starting point and conclusions, this is an intelligent and thought-provoking read that demands a response.
The Human Planet: How we created the Anthropocene
By Simon A. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin
In light of the massive impact humankind has had on the planet, many scientists believe we have moved from the Holocene epoch to be living in the Anthropocene era. Human influence has been generally negative with climate change a clear result. This book provides an impressive explanation of how we got here from a scientific, historical and political perspective and how we can start to clear up the mess humans have created. “Invest in renewable energy solutions and divest from fossil fuels, keeping them in the ground,” is an obvious starting point.
By Barbara Kingsolver
Explaining climate change and its impact on the natural world is a difficult task often left to well-meaning NGOs, which frequently turn off their audience with their commentary on what people “must” and “mustn’t do”. Through the story of Dellarobia Turnbow, a 28 year-old bored farmer’s wife living with her young family in rural Tennesse, Kingsolver manages to poignantly and simply show the impact of global warming and the need to move to a future where clean energy and more sustainable life-styles are the order of the day. Dellarobia is the mouthpiece the transition needs
By Ian McEwan
Any renewable energy expert who may be tempted to reap personal glory from the energy transition should take heed from the dark, very funny satire of Nobel prize-winning physicist Michael Beard, whose personal and professional lives are fast going awry. Beard’s efforts to save his marriage, fame and, potentially, the world by generating cheap renewable energy through a process of artificial photosynthesis make for a most enjoyable (re)read.