The global Covid-19 outbreak has certainly changed a lot for everyone both personally and professionally. Within the energy arena, several developments have been fast tracked since the beginning of this year which present both opportunities and challenges to experts across every specialism. In particular, the demand for future energy skills has evolved.
In our latest blog, we take a look at how things have changed since Covid and what it means for energy professionals.
A new energy landscape
When lockdowns began to be imposed, one of the direct impacts that many members of the general public might not have considered is how our energy consumption would adapt. But office closures and remote working changed the amount of demand that has historically been placed on energy sources.
In fact, according to research from International Energy Agency (IEA), global energy demand declined by 3.8% in the first quarter of 2020, while emissions dropped 5% as travel activity reduced significantly. Although this decline is only temporary, it has changed the energy field on a more permanent basis.
As Yasushi Fukuizumi Vice President of Energy Systems, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries explained in a recent article for the World Economic Forum, the Coronavirus has accelerated three particular trends that have the potential to completely reshape the industry: decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitalisation.
In a post-pandemic world, how we all consume energy has evolved, which will certainly increase decarbonisation worldwide. While there will certainly be a spike in energy consumption once more global businesses are able to bring staff back to offices, the fact that remote working looks set to remain a trend for many companies means that energy consumption itself will remain lower than pre-pandemic.
The growing public interest in renewable energy also looks set to change the industry. Prior to Covid-19, the IEA reported that supplies of renewable electricity had grown faster than expected, potentially expanding 50% by 2025. And in its Global Energy Review 2020, the International Energy Agency revealed that renewable was the only energy source to see a growth in demand at the beginning of the year as the climate change conversations continue to rage on.
For those working in the renewables space this is certainly good news, but, as the World Economic Forum article highlighted, electrification can present some challenges. In the first instance, renewable energy is intermittent which makes large-scale storage a particular concern. With a spike in reliance on sustainable sources of energy such as solar power, the need to fast-track storage projects is crucial to meet demand.
There are some plans already underway. In the USA, for example, the Advanced Clean Energy Storage scheme in Utah is being progressed. But greater investment in storage options is a necessity and, perhaps more importantly, the right skills are needed to deliver this.
Tackling the challenge of hard to electrify sectors (heavy transport or aviation, for example), is also a hot topic. While hydrogen is being cited as the energy source to solve this problem, projects are still in the early stages of development.
Fukuizumi also referenced the shift away from the more traditional utility business model to a more democratic approach. He suggested that we are already seeing a move from monopolised power companies managing the flow of energy from large power plants to the end-user, to a distributed energy network that would see consumers have greater control over their energy portfolio.
As Fukuizumi explained, this could change energy consumption drastically:
“In the centralised model, more power is generated and distributed when demand peaks. In a decentralized system, demand response is used to manage distribution and grid stability. The number of energy consumers, equipment, and demand patterns that must be orchestrated is enormous.”
The digitalisation trend has been growing for some time now as sophisticated technology is increasingly being tapped into to automate, analyse and manage distribution. We’ve already seen forward thinking companies launch fully integrated digital tools to support the business (Hive is a prime example).
But digital arguably hasn’t been embraced and utilised to its full extent across energy. Technology such as blockchain and predictive artificial intelligence has the potential to collate and analyse consumption information that could significantly streamline distribution. This will be of particular worth in a decentralised utilities model and is something that will certainly play an increasingly valuable role in the very near future.
What does this mean for future energy skills?
But what does this all mean for the skills needed in energy? The simple answer is it will create a lot of change. Those professionals in the renewables sphere can certainly expect to see demand for their expertise continue to increase in the very near future. However, with demand for renewables skills outstripping supply, opportunities in this area aren’t just limited to those in the specialism. There’s a wealth of research pointing to the shortage of renewables skills on a global scale that, if left unchallenged, will impact the growth of renewables. For many energy companies, this has led to a need to consider the transferrable skills of those with experience across a variety of specialisms.
No matter what your area of expertise within energy, though, digital skills will be part of your future in some capacity. As digitalisation of the industry continues, it will hit every role in some way. The need to retrain, upskill and refresh your knowledge in the technology that’s impacting your role is critical. Not just for your current position, but also your future job prospects. Tech is constantly being adapted and tweaked, so individuals looking at making a career move will find themselves in greater demand if they can demonstrate the right digital knowledge.
Crucially, though, in this ever-changing landscape, energy experts will increasingly find one attribute is in high demand: resilience. The ability to adapt and change as the industry – and indeed the world – evolves will not only be needed, but also highly desirable from any new employers.