The renewables industry has gone from strength to strength over the last few years – and until very recently the Paris Agreement of 2015, (in which 195 countries committed to a global plan to avoid dangerous climate change and limit global warming) was seen as another step forward which would support growth. Whilst the future of this agreement is now uncertain, huge steps have been taken towards meeting these initiatives already; last year alone saw a significant decline of polluting fossil fuels, while simultaneously there was a rise in renewables, most notably wind and solar.
As these modern alternatives start to takeover this is going to become an increasingly exciting sector to work in and so Florida-based NES Manager David Shroder helped us to explore this in more detail…
Could you start by telling us the background of renewable energy?
Prior to the industrial revolution and the use of coal back in the 1800s almost all of the energy used was renewable. Everything from animal power, water power and windmills crushing grain contributed to our energy consumption. The late 1800s saw development in solar technology and after the Peak Oil theory became popular in the 1970s renewable energy was promoted as an escape from the dependence on oil. Technological progress has seen the cost of producing renewable energy fall considerably since the 1970s and 2014 saw over 1,7000 gigawatts of energy supplied through renewable sources.
In the early days of renewables, did anyone expect it to be as big as it is now?
The scientific community and those involved in the development of renewable energy have always expected it to be as big if not bigger than it is now. No lesser authority on power than Werner von Siemens, the founder of Siemens, expressed that the practical value of solar energy will be that the supply will continue long after all the coal deposits have been exhausted.
What was the initial response to renewables?
The early days of modern renewable energy saw slow adoption, primarily due to the cost involved in generating meaningful electricity at a cost comparable to fossil fuels. Since 2004, however, the increased efficiency of the technology, coupled with enhanced government subsidies, globally has seen renewable energy capacity grow at between 10 and 60% year-on-year.
Do you think we will continue to see a decline in traditional methods of power production and a rise in renewables?
Absolutely. The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2061 more than half of the world’s electricity will be produced by solar power. Wind power currently accounts for around 4% of worldwide electricity usage and this continues to grow as adoption across the US and China grows at great pace.
Do you think that renewables will help us to meet the targets for reducing carbon emissions?
The use of renewable energy will have a major impact on how successful we are at achieving the targets set for reducing carbon emissions. Renewable energy technology has sometimes been seen as a costly luxury by developing countries, but as the cost per kilowatt of energy produced from renewable sources, we have seen countries who have been heavily dependent on fossil fuels invest aggressively in renewables. 2015, for example, saw China, India and Brazil invest over $156bn in renewable energy production.
The UK had ‘no coal’ day – what did this mean for the industry?
The ‘no coal’ day was a watershed moment for the power industry, globally, not just in the UK. The UK was the first country to use coal to generate electricity but the day had more than just a symbolic relevance. On that day 34% of the UK’s power was generated from Wind, Solar or Biomass. UK Ministers have said that they want to phase out use of coal power by 2025 and the ‘no coal’ day is the first step to achieving that aim.
Would you say renewables are one of the biggest power sources right now?
Using the numbers alone, it is difficult to argue that renewables are not the fastest growing sections of the power industry. The last few years have seen exponential growth in both jobs and investment in renewable technologies and despite low oil prices and changes in US government policies, the outlook remains very positive.
Do you agree that wind and solar will become key players in meeting energy demands?
The use of wind and solar are vital in meeting the energy needs of the future. The nature of Fossil Fuels being finite means that we have to become more reliant on other energy sources. Wind and Solar will play a key part in developing a broad energy production strategy and as efficiency, cost and the technologies improve it will continue to grow. On the UK’s ‘no coal’ day nearly a quarter of the country’s energy demands were met just from Solar and Wind.
What is it like to work in this industry?
Working in the Renewable industry has been incredibly exciting. Investment has poured in to the sector and in the USA, the fastest growing profession is that of a Wind Technician. There is a buzz around every convention you attend and a real groundswell of feeling that renewables is the next big thing.
There tend to be more men than women in the power production industries – would you say this is the same in the renewables industry or do you tend to find more women working here?
Around one third of people working in the Solar and Wind industries (in the US) are female and this is comparable to traditional power generation statistics.
What is recruitment looking like in this industry?
Very varied! The sheer scope of roles available in this industry means that there is something for almost everyone. From travelling site to site, climbing wind towers and replacing gearboxes, to Civil Engineering and Research and Development, the renewables industry is an exciting place to work with constant opportunity.
Which country would you say is taking the lead when it comes to renewable energy and why?
As you would expect the countries with the heaviest power usage are producing the most energy from renewable sources. China, for example, produce more than twice as much renewable energy than any other country. This is followed by the USA and Brazil. That being said though, Europe lead the way in adoption and innovation. Denmark have long been pioneers of Wind Power and look well on track to produce more than 50% of their energy needs from wind by the end of the decade. Germany are also at the forefront of renewable adoption. On a Sunday last May 99.3% of the electricity used in Germany was produced by Wind, Solar or Biomass.
How has renewables changed over the years?
The main change over recent years has been the advancement of the technology. Increased efficiency, particularly within Solar, has seen the cost of renewables reduce drastically. For renewable power to continue to grow at the rate it has over the last decade, reducing the cost per kilowatt is vital.
What, if anything, has surprised you about the industry?
The level of dedication, hard work and focus of the people in the industry has really surprised me. Whether it is Wind Turbine Maintenance Technicians, driving across country from site to site, to the multiple R&D teams we work with driving advances in the technology, I have been surprised and impressed by just how committed to the industry these people are.
What is the most impressive part of this industry?
For me, the ability to generate meaningful electricity out of thin air is always impressive. I live in Orlando and driving around, seeing solar panels being used to generate the power that the hot sunny day is producing to run my air-conditioning, is always impressive to me!
How has Brexit and the US Election affected the renewables industry?
It’s too early to say really. Initially here in the US after the election there were some concerns from some of our clients in the Wind industry, but this has largely died down now and it’s back to business as usual!
What does the future look like for renewables? How will it change?
Renewables undeniably have a bright future. While climate change remains a contentious issue in the US, the science is generally accepted and with almost all countries looking for cheap, plentiful sources of energy, renewables continue to play a major and growing part of the solution.
What advice would you give to someone looking to work in this industry?
I would advise anyone with an interest in the industry to explore the many different types of positions open to them. The career paths are well defined and the opportunities afforded to people who are willing to work hard and learn every day are limitless.
A good example of this is a gentleman I have been working with over the last six months. He started as a Wind Technician, climbing 300 foot turbines and doing oil changes. He worked hard, asked questions and learned as he went and has progressed through the company now to a position of VP of Operations and Maintenance. His life has been changed by renewable energy and it’s always exciting to see such progression open to anyone.
Are you looking to enter or progress in the ever-growing renewables sector?
Now is the perfect time to take the step and we have various roles available in locations across the world.
Apply today – and help shape the future of power and energy production.