New Energy, New Jobs, New Opportunities

Professor Paul de Leeuw explains how the transition to renewable energy can be beneficial for employment. Banner image: Shutterstock/humphery

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This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders  from around the world and all parts of society  address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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The future of the global energy sector is being fundamentally reshaped through a combination of COVID-19, the climate emergency, the energy transition, technology and innovation and changing industry dynamics. The current global energy crunch and record-high global energy prices are further putting the spotlight on the tough decision to be made between meeting energy demands now, and the transformational investment required in renewable energy to protect our planet from the worst impacts of climate change.

The energy transition will inevitably change future energy geopolitics. The big three—coal, oil and gas—have dominated the global energy scene for almost a century, with over 80% of production of these global commodities concentrated in less than 20 countries[1].

Solar, wind and hydrogen are going to be the energy building blocks of the future and will replace the traditional globally traded commodities. Given the constraints of wind and solar generation capacity, energy generation is likely to become more localised, more integrated and increasingly centred around energy clusters, matching supply and demand in countries and regions.

With the expectation that almost every country or region in the world will become an energy producer, the global energy system is going to change. This new world of increased energy independency, breaking the link with imported commodities, will also shift responsibility and accountability to national and regional governments for meeting the net zero obligations under the Paris Climate Change agreement. The increased localisation of energy will enable governments to have a bigger impact in shaping their own energy destiny and employment opportunities.

With the UN COP26 climate conference taking place in the United Kingdom, the host has a unique opportunity to show real leadership to address the challenges associated with the global climate emergency. Although the United Kingdom currently only represents over 1% of global CO2 emissions, around 1% of the world’s oil and gas production and roughly 1% of the world’s population[2], it is well positioned to be a driving force in managing and supporting the global transition to a lower carbon future and to turn the country into a global offshore powerhouse. To do so will require courageous leadership and bold action. 

Find more on the Forum Network: Who’s ready for the green economy? Measuring skills for the low-carbon transition by Francesco Vona, David Popp & Giovanni Marin

It is estimated that over USD 230 billion will be invested in offshore energy related activities in the United Kingdom Continental Shelf during the 2020s[3], including offshore wind, carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), hydrogen and fossil fuels. With the overall number of the United Kingdom’s oil and gas industry jobs projected to decline over time, the degree of transferability of jobs to adjacent energy or industrial sectors will be key to ensuring the United Kingdom retains its world-class skills and capabilities.

With investment driving activity, and activity driving labour demand, future jobs will be closely correlated to the investment in the basin. With many of the skills and competencies required for the offshore energy sector to be highly interchangeable, there is a unique opportunity to create a new, world-class, net zero energy workforce.

In the recent UK Offshore Energy Workforce Transferability review, Robert Gordon University highlights that the offshore energy workforce mix will change significantly in the next 10 years, with roles in decarbonised energies projected to increase from 20% to 65% of all jobs in the offshore energy sector. The review also indicates that around 200,000 people are likely to be required by 2030 to support activities in the United Kingdom offshore energy sector, including offshore wind, hydrogen, CCUS and oil and gas. This compares to around 160,000 people directly and indirectly employed in 2021.

The oil and gas workforce are well placed to take advantage of the new opportunities in the offshore renewables sector. Over 90% of the United Kingdom’s oil and gas workforce has medium to high skills transferability, and the majority are well positioned to work in adjacent offshore energy sectors. In particular, soft skills and other non-technical skills are generally highly transferable.

Around 80% of the United Kingdom offshore energy jobs in 2030 are envisaged to be in nine key job families: Operations, Technicians, Engineering, Projects, Commercial/Business development/Marketing, Procurement/Supply chain management, Finance, Human Resources and Health, Safety, Sustainability and Environment (HSSE); the remaining 20% will be employed in over 14 other job families.

It is key that government and industry work together to ensure a just, fair and well managed transition of skills and experience, in a way that protects and sustains key energy jobs. In the United Kingdom, the prize of delivering the targets identified for offshore wind, oil and gas, hydrogen and CCUS by 2030 is hugely material. Success can deliver around 200,000 offshore energy jobs by 2030. Failure to grasp these opportunities could result in reduced activity levels and in the accelerated decline in the oil and gas industry, which would reduce the offshore energy workforce requirements to fewer than 140,000 jobs by 2030.

COVID-19 has helped to unite the world against a common cause - and we now need a similar approach to tackle the climate emergency. The pandemic has demonstrated that the global community can step up to do remarkable things. Now is the time for all of us to build on that momentum

[1] BP Statistical Review (2021)
[2] Ourworldindata, Worldometer and UK Office for National Statistics
[3] Robert Gordon University: UK offshore energy workforce transferability review (May 2021)

Learn more about green skills in the 2021 joint Cedefop/OECD symposium: Apprenticeships for greener economies and societies: 

Find more data on renewable energy in the OECD data portal

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Green Recovery Future of Work  Sustainable Development Goals Tackling COVID-19

Paul de Leeuw

Professor & Director, Energy Transition Institute, Robert Gordon University

Paul is a senior industry leader and executive with over 33 years’ experience in the global energy sector. He has worked for a wide range of companies, including Shell, Marathon Oil, Amoco, BP, Venture Production and Centrica.

He is currently the Director of Robert Gordon University’s Energy Transition Institute, Chair of the National Energy Skills Accelerator, Chair of PlanSea Solutions and a Professor at Robert Gordon University (UK).

Paul is an experienced non-executive director, with over 20 years of involvement in public, private and voluntary sector organisations. He is also a regular contributor to industry events and a frequent media commentator on issues and developments in the international energy sector.