Are The UK Skillset And Industries On Right Tracks To Achieving The Ambitious 2050 UK Energy Targets? 7191

Are The UK Skillset And Industries On Right Tracks To Achieving The Ambitious 2050 UK Energy Targets?


Shuvechchha Ghimire shares an interesting article about energy goals of the UK.  She is a graduate in Electronics and Computer Engineering from the University of Brighton and is also the founder of UNITEC Solutions Ltd which provides customised enterprise automation solutions.

The 2020 Energy Whitepaper pointed out that the current rate of emissions could increase the global temperature to a devastating 3 degrees by 2100. The ten-points plan published by the government to tackle the situation puts Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage (CCUS) and Green Hydrogen technologies at the forefront. Both CCUS and industrial electrolysis are mature technologies in the UK. Owing to their costs of production and logistics of transport, however, they are yet to be adapted in the wider industrial scales.

The government’s £45 million investment in CCUS is estimated to cut down the emissions until Green Hydrogen technologies are operational. CCUS is estimated to reduce up to 90% of emissions by the oil and gas infrastructures and 95% of the emissions caused by the UK homes and businesses. The captured CO2, says the International Energy Agency, can be stored in depleted salt caverns and compressed undersea air balloons. Companies like Carbon Engineering are taking further steps to recycle the captured CO2 into products such as calcium carbonate, cement, fertilisers, and synthetic membranes.

Similarly, the government has allocated a £240 million Net Zero Hydrogen Fund to support green hydrogen production. Companies like ITM Power – which manufactures PEM (proton exchange membrane) electrolysers – are due to inject 20% of hydrogen into the existing natural gas network, which is a much-awaited proof of concept of the technology.

While the government-level investment and the corresponding technology advancements are steps in the right direction, I wanted to find out whether the skillset and the corporate priorities had adapted as well. 
  1. Does the UK have right skillset to deliver the 2050 net zero targets?
The ten-point plan estimated that the CCUS and hydrogen production will together support up to 58,000 jobs by 2030 and unlock up to 100,000 jobs by 2050. Retaining and retraining the existing talent is paramount to avoid probable redundancies. Similarly, an early engagement with engineering students and graduates – the generation of engineers meant to deliver the net zero – seems opportune.
I followed up with Shaligram Aryal, a senior manager who invests 40% of his work hours managing graduates. I asked him whether the current engineering graduates have the skillset to deliver the net zero targets. In Aryal’s experience, graduates are not necessarily equipped with the skillset required for the jobs but rather provided a basic training by universities to learn and follow procedures. When hired, graduates need extensive training, which costs a company an average of £2,000 per person every year. This is excluding the time invested by senior staff in managing, mentoring, and directing the graduates. Even after the initial training/probation period, continued learning is required from graduates, which translates to a 5-10% of their total work hours.

While this investment is practical and necessary for continuous professional development of engineers, it might be helpful to require the current undergraduate education system to simultaneously provide skills in energy transition technologies. My personal observations as a recent graduate has been that the research opportunities in green sector are generally only available to post graduate students. This suggests that most students who do not pursue the post graduate route are missing out on the essential training and foresight. As such, it might be time to rethink the curriculum to include energy transformation challenges. If time constraint is an immediate barrier to implementing a revised curriculum, perhaps we can extend the average undergraduate course to a four years’ study.   

In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a record rise in unemployment, and a looming global recession, as the World Bank points out, is it viable for the industry to be solely responsible for training graduates in the green sector? While the government-funded competitions like “Driving the Electric Revolution Supply Chains for Net Zero” are excellent platforms to engage the industry, they do not necessarily engage graduates and early-career engineers. Direct graduate training and certification programs at undergraduate levels can help achieve a stronger awareness of green energy.
  1. How are industries adapting to the net-zero targets?
On corporate levels, current actions seem to be limited to marginal improvements of the existing infrastructure. Few of the adapted corporate sustainability goals I came across included measures for sustainable travelling such as “no travelling week”, “cycle to work” schemes and electric vehicles. These efforts are people-driven and suggest a generational awareness towards the net zero. That said, perhaps the most recurring rhetoric across industry, when it comes to the net zero targets, is that the government needs to devise a framework through which the market for green energy can be bolstered. The market forces favouring green energy should not be overshadowed by the cost of green energy production/usage. 

Similarly, in the “achieving net zero webinar series” organised by Ricardo and Mott MacDonald, industries were recommended to understand their emission pathways and identify suitable reduction mechanisms, the likes of performance optimisation and CCUS. While doing so is the right step forward, it is also crucial that these temporary solutions are not used as permanent excuses for the continued usage of energy-hungry grey infrastructures. Post-covid, we have a once in a generation opportunity to come back greener, not just in government-level policies but also in practice.
On industrial levels, a global synergy of efforts is essential to reduce emissions. One such synergy required is in drafting frameworks for gradual decommissioning of the global oil and gas infrastructure. In the UK, according to the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), these infrastructures include over 250 fixed installations, 250 subsea production systems, 10,000 km of pipeline, and 5,000 oil wells.

In my next article, I will explore the global net-zero policies and evaluate the market dynamics that might come into play as the UK companies work towards the net zero targets. I will address the question, will the developing countries adopt a less efficient, and a potentially more expensive process to use green energy at the stake of their growth?   

Blog IET Sussex Network 12/03/2021 8:34pm GMT

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