Renewable energy is going gangbusters. The “remarkable and unstoppable growth of green energy” has been on the horizon for a long time now, with technologies like wind and solar becoming competitively cost-effective and even cheaper than some fossil fuels in most of the world, electric cars becoming more and more accessible and mainstream, and as more consumers become more concerned about their own personal carbon footprint’s role in the warming of the planet. While the global clean energy transition has been a long time coming, we seem to have reached a tipping point, going from far-off aspirations and pleading from environmentalists and climate scientists to an in-earnest, urgent movement over the course of 2020. The move towards renewables was undoubtedly catalyzed by the spread of the novel coronavirus, which brought the usually unstoppable momentum of industrial and economic business as usual to a screeching halt at the beginning of last year. As demand for fossil fuels lagged and the bottom fell out of the petroleum market, it seemed possible, for the first time in recent memory and perhaps even since the industrial revolution, to redirect the trajectory of the global economy away from oil, coal, and gas and toward a greener, more renewable future.
Against this backdrop, the World Economic Forum advocated for the development of a “new energy order”and a “great reset,” and world leaders around the globe got serious about cleaning up their countries’ ecological footprints with green stimulus plans. As NPR reported almost exactly one year ago, “around the world leaders see opportunity in the global pandemic to address the other big problem humanity faces: climate change.” These leaders included such big-name international agencies as the United Nations, the International Energy Agency, and the European Union. Even the private sector got on board as a surprising number of blue chip companies pushed for a green energy stimulus in the United States.
And clean energy did indeed take off. In fact, the global renewable energy industry grew faster in 2020 than it has since 1999. Renewable energy installation increased by 45 percent compared to 2019. Wind power capacity alone doubled in 2020, while sola’s growth rate shot up nearly 50% over pre-pandemic levels.
But now, that seemingly unstoppable growth trend has hit a serious speed bump. As the world reopens and the global and national economies begin to return to normal, the clean energy industry has run into the same problem as so many other economic sectors--there just aren’t enough workers. In the case of the renewable energy sector, the issue isn’t that there is a workforce that simply isn’t applying. The problem is that the industry is expanding so rapidly that there simply aren’t enough qualified and skilled workers to fill the huge swath of new job openings in the field.
“Clean energy giants are finding a shortage of workers with the skills needed to support their ambitious growth plans,” Bloomberg Green recently reported. In the words of clean energy CEO Miguel Stilwell, of the Portuguese renewables firm EDP Renovaveis SA, “There’s a war over talent globally.” He went on to tell Bloomberg, “the renewable sector, given the massive amount of growth that is expected, doesn’t have enough people.” In the case of EDP Renovaveis, one of the global industry leaders, the firm’s ambitious growth plans for the next two years would require hiring an additional 1,300 employees.
As countries rush to significantly increase spending in this sector and push for growth, the industry is quite simply running out of qualified candidates to staff the global clean energy transition. The industry has been touted as a potential source for major job growth for years now, but training and educating an entirely new generation of workers, especially to such a relatively nascent and constantly advancing and shifting industry, takes time. Meanwhile, the wheels of progress continue to turn at a brisk clip. “Solar generation capacity is expected to triple by the end of the decade, while wind capacity is expected to more than double over the same period, Bloomberg Green reports. The clean energy revolution is sorely needed, as are clean energy jobs in a market suffering from high unemployment rates. Eventually, these needs will come together, but in the meantime, it’s going to be a major growing pain for the clean energy sector.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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