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General views inside National Grid's London Power Tunnels as the company announces its new 'Building the Net Zero Energy Workforce' report

Energy industry encouraged to fill 400k jobs to reach net zero goal

Image credit: Jeff Spicer/PA Wire

Hundreds of thousands of people will need to be recruited into the energy sector if the UK is to reach its goal of cutting emissions to net zero by 2050, according to a new report by National Grid.

The Building the Net Zero Energy Workforce report shows the need to fill 400,000 positions in skilled tradespeople, engineers and other specialists across the country as part of the UK’s legal targets to drive greenhouse gas emissions.

According to research by YouGov, many people across the UK would prefer to have jobs with an environmental purpose and found that 78 per cent of people thought they should play a role in the UK’s journey to net zero. Also, more than half (57 per cent) of people are interested in working for an organisation helping to deliver on the goal.

However, the energy industry is currently facing the challenges of a looming retirement crunch, along with stiff competition with other sectors such as tech and finance.

It found in this decade alone, the industry must increase low-carbon power generation by around 50 per cent, install low-carbon heating systems in 2.8 million homes, develop carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) technology and hydrogen networks as well as install 60,000 charging points to power 11 million electric vehicles (EVs).

Furthermore, the report found there are not enough young people choosing careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and there is also a lack of women in the sector.

However, chief engineer at National Grid, David Wright, said there is a “wave of momentum” about people wanting to join the energy industry, with more women wanting a “job of purpose”.

“In the UK at the moment, only 12 per cent of the engineers are female. What we found from the research actually is more women than men really want to do a job of purpose and help become part of delivering net zero moving forward,” he said.

We’re incredibly excited about that because we want to get that full diversity of talent coming into the industry. We see females taking maths and physics courses through school and coming into the industry, there’s a huge opportunity to drive the future net zero workforces for the country.”

Some 117,000 of the new workers need to be employed by the sector in the next decade to help meet key milestones up to 2050, National Grid said. Also, new recruits will be needed to deliver projects such as offshore wind farms, technology to capture and store carbon emissions and enabling the grid to cope with more electric vehicles and heating.

Staff are also needed to assist in projects such as the London Power Tunnels, where National Grid has spent nearly £1bn upgrading the high-voltage cable network that runs around the north of the capital.

The cables in new tunnels, which run 32m (105ft) below street level, are updating the grid to channel power from offshore wind farms and to be able to withstand extra demand from charging electric cars and low-carbon heating.

“Demand is going to go up massively because of population growth but also decarbonising Britain, with all of the electric vehicle infrastructures, and moving off gas to heat homes, which could be hydrogen or electric heating,” said Wright. “We’re doing the replacement now with the future in mind.”

The next phase of the project conducted by the energy company will see cables in south London being upgraded.

(Left to right) School pupil Joey Howard, aged 10, Nathan Hunt, advanced apprentice at National Grid, Sarah Woolham-Jaffier, construction engineer at National Grid and James Watson, lead advanced commissioning engineer for London, National Grid tour National Grid’s London Power Tunnels as the company announces its new ‘Building the Net Zero Energy Workforce’ report

(Left to right) School pupil Joey Howard, aged 10, Nathan Hunt, advanced apprentice at National Grid, Sarah Woolham-Jaffier, construction engineer at National Grid and James Watson, lead advanced commissioning engineer for London, National Grid tour at National Grid’s London Power Tunnels

Image credit: Jeff Spicer/PA Wire

Wright added that the many different jobs that would need to be filled in the energy sector would range from areas in cybersecurity to data engineering to tradespeople going into homes to replace old boilers with new technology.

Nathan Hunt, 17, from Cambridgeshire, who switched away from the A-levels and university route onto an advanced apprenticeship with National Grid after GCSEs, said addressing the climate crisis was part of his motivation.

“Personally I think it’s really important, I think we should leave the planet in a better state for future generations than we’ve got it in, we should improve it for future generations, not make it worse – and we need to do it now,” he said.

According to the report, jobs will come across the country, with an estimated 21,000 new recruits in the North East to deliver projects such as offshore wind and the interconnector off the coast of Blyth in Northumberland.

Furthermore, around 28,000 roles will be required to work on projects including developing more offshore wind farms in the East of England, and the development of carbon capture and storage in the Yorkshire and Humber region could create 17,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, offshore and onshore wind will help drive more than 48,000 jobs in Scotland and in Wales. Also, the move to low carbon will create 25,00 more roles.

“Our research shows that to deliver net zero, the energy industry needs to recruit hundreds of thousands of people over the next 30 years – and that really is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the wider impact of net zero across other industries,” said Nicola Shaw, executive director of National Grid.

“The time is now for the sector to rise to the challenge and overcome the long-standing issues we face in recruiting a diverse workforce with the right skills to deliver on the UK’s ambitions,” she stated.

Last April, National Grid said that it was preparing its Electricity System Operator (ESO) to fully run on carbon-free electricity sources by 2025.

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