Danny Nielsen, the new Senior Vice President and Country Head of Vestas in Australia and New Zealand, has warned that the country is facing a skills shortage in the renewable energy sector, as the roll out of larger and more complex wind and solar projects accelerates in order to populate renewable energy zones and meet state targets.
Speaking at the Clean Energy Council’s Wind Industry Forum on Thursday in Melbourne, Nielsen – a veteran of the wind industry and Danish wind giant Vestas – stated that Australia possessed all of the necessary elements to become a renewable energy superpower, particularly in offshore wind. “Australia has all of the ingredients to become a renewable energy superpower,” Nielsen said.
Although Australia has enormous renewable potential, realising it at the pace necessary to replace retiring coal power plants while also meeting its climate commitments will require access to hundreds of thousands of skilled workers – a workforce that the country does not currently have in abundance.
Australians have “the potential to become what we term a clean energy superpower,” Nielsen said at the conference. “This is true across all technologies and generator types.”
“[But] if this world-class hub… in Australia is going to get up and running, we’re not going to need 25,000 more people, right? We’re going to need 250,000, 300,000 people.
In Nielsen’s opinion, “[a major] difficulty for the sector is that we genuinely need a workforce that can satisfy the present demand for what we’re doing in renewables.”
In order to attract that talent and train them in order to propel the sector to where it needs to go in the next few years, an enormous amount of work will be required.”
Accordingly, “Australia is experiencing a skills shortage, which means that there may be quality issues in the business as a result of the lack of available skill sets.”
The demand comes as Australia’s two major political parties prepare for a federal election in which a significant portion of the battle will be fought over climate change, the transition to clean energy, and employment.
As RenewEconomy highlighted last month, the Morrison administration has so far consolidated all of these concerns into a tediously familiar scare campaign, alleging that the quick abandonment of coal and gas projects will result in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in areas such as Queensland.
This stands in stark contrast to the strategy taken by the Conservative administration in the United Kingdom, which, under Boris Johnson, has promised to invest billions of dollars in the green economy over the next decade and create as many as 440,000 new employment opportunities in growing green industries.
In a paper published in October last year by the Australian Conservation Foundation, WWF Australia, the union group ACTU, and the Business Council of Australia, researchers anticipated that comparable job creation numbers will be seen in the United States.
According to the findings of that analysis, a renewable energy export business centred on renewable hydrogen and ammonia production would generate about 400,000 new jobs in its first year.
In addition, the organisations behind the report issued an unified appeal for governments to take five fundamental initiatives, including creating a $5 billion fund to assist people transferring into new industries.
WWF Australia President Martjin Wilder stated, “With sensible investments, it is regional communities, particularly those who are currently reliant on carbon-intensive industries, that stand to benefit the most from Australia becoming a renewable export superpower.”
The demand for renewables and zero-carbon goods will increase dramatically as our overseas trading partners try to meet their climate commitments. Our federal and state governments must collaborate with the business sector in order to capitalise on this expanding demand, which will result in the creation of new jobs and investment possibilities.”
According to Nielsen, who spoke at the Wind Business Forum, while legislation was critical in closing the skills gap, industry had a collective obligation to connect with universities and schools in order to recruit members of the next generation into the renewable sector.
As he explained, “we need to close that gap if we are going to expand… our industry.” In addition to providing legislative certainty at the federal level, as we discussed, people are more likely to invest in businesses where they can see… that there is a long-term future for the company.