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.
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