What Kind of Jobs are There in Renewable Energy?

Renewable Energy means different things to different people – at its core, it simply means generating electricity from things that don’t run out, like the wind, or the sun.  Currently, the majority of electricity generation in the US is from non-renewable sources, like coal, gas and oil. 

To produce electricity from, for example, a coal-fired power plant, you have to feed a supply of coal to it. That coal must first be mined, and then transported to the plant (which also adds fuel costs). Once in the plant, it is burnt up, pumping global warming gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. If you want more electricity, you have to mine more coal, transport it to the plant, burn it, and so on. A modern 1000MW power station needs 9000 tonnes of coal every day to keep it running.

There is general agreement amongst the scientific community that if we keep using fossil fuels at the rate we are doing, they will completely run out within this century, with studies showing that oil will last about 51 years and gas about 53 years. This is easily within the lifetime of many people who are alive today. Coal will last a bit longer, with estimates placing total worldwide coal depletion at about 114 years. 

As this fact has become more understood by policy makers and industry leaders, the drive for renewables has been ramping up over recent years. The demand for jobs in the renewable energy sector reaches much further than just wind turbines and solar panels. There are many supporting industries that all need workers due to the upsurge in the drive to transition the US to renewable energy.

Some examples are shown below:

Laborers working in steel and construction
Wind turbines require large volumes of concrete and steel, and with installation ramping up across the country, these industries are receiving welcome orders from the renewable energy sector.

Manufacturing
The US currently has 217 wind turbine manufacturers, employing 28,392 people across the country. This number is only set to rise as demand increases. The top 5 US solar panel manufacturers currently supply only 28% of all solar panels bought in the country. With appropriate federal incentives designed to encourage consumers and industrial clients to buy “home-made” panels, there is significant scope for growth in this market too, as solar installations are growing at an unprecedented rate.

To ensure there are no blackouts, a smooth transition to renewably generated electricity requires energy storage plants to balance the grid, due to the natural unpredictability in generation from wind turbines and solar farms. A recently released federal document “National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries 2021-2030” claims “successful domestic production and reliable supply chains in both [commercial and national defence] markets will be imperative”. 

13 new battery manufacturing plants are to be built in the US over the next 3 years which will also support the drive towards renewables.

Science, research & development
Many aspects of renewable energy are benefiting from continued research and development.
For example: 

  • battery chemistry (bringing new batteries to market that are safer, can store more energy and be recharged many more times without degrading)
  • material science (improving efficiency and lowering cost of manufacturing composites like carbon fibre and glass fibre that are used in wind turbine blades)
  • improving efficiencies in electrical systems and developing new techniques to reduce costs.

Recycling
Creating circular economies (recycling of used wind turbine blades, recycling of lithium and other rare metals) is another growth sector in the jobs market due to renewable energy.  For example. over the past couple of years, a number of lithium and rare earth recycling plants have become operational in the US – like the Li-Cycle plant in Rochester, New York, which began processing in December 2020.

Truck drivers / transportation industry
Delivering the massive turbines and blades from where they are manufactured to their installation sites requires a specialist transportation sector, with specially designed vehicles. 

Offshore specialist workforce
Installation of offshore wind turbines requires a more complex support network of offshore specialist laborers including shipping, support vessels, transport / installation vessels, on site assembly and installation.

White collar workers
Analysts, consultants, project managers and engineers are all in demand at all levels of renewable energy sectors. 

Technicians – Servicing & Repair
Ongoing routine inspection and maintenance of solar farms and wind turbines are required to keep them running at optimum levels.

 

At Mackinnon & Partners, people are our success, and we want you to achieve your success. As renewable energy recruiters, we aim to provide first class candidates to a variety of emerging and established markets with a wealth of knowledge in the renewables, oil and gas, and construction industries both on and offshore.

Contact us to learn more about how you can advance your career or find world-class talent to add to your organization. We aim to give clients a seamless and hassle-free recruitment process with the right candidate presented the first time. 

Jack Miller
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