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Careers in energy – five things you should know

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Paul Hatchwell, climate and energy editor at the ENDS Report, offers interview advice for energy sector candidates.

Paul Hatchwell, climate and energy editor at the ENDS Report

Over the next decade, sustainable and renewable energy is set to offer a rich and growing variety of career opportunities in the UK and globally.

But what should you know before you walk into that interview? Sure, you will need to have researched the firm, its market, geography and ideally its ethos. But beyond your résumé and educational background, interviewers will be looking for a wide skill set and deeper understanding of the market.

Here are five things that could help you to stand out.

The first challenge is to work out where the best opportunities are now. There will be keen competition for positions in activities currently facing a slowdown, due largely to recent government policy changes.

Feed-in tariffs for solar PV have been slashed, Renewable Obligation subsidies for onshore wind are to be axed, and the overall budget for renewables is being pared back with uncertainty even for offshore wind after 2020.

In the energy efficiency sector, a target for new homes and commercial buildings to be zero carbon by 2016 and 2019 respectively has been dropped, the Green Deal for existing homes has been abolished and the Energy Company Obligation to upgrade vulnerable households has been slashed.

But the second point to remember is that as long as the UK sticks to its strict carbon budgets, these sectors will again need to resume rapid growth, with investment decisions already urgently needed. The grid will need to be largely decarbonised by 2030, and buildings will need to be zero energy by 2020 under EU regulations. Further renewables support measures and new policies on both business and domestic energy efficiency are also expected shortly.

Thirdly, the historic Paris Agreement on climate change of 2015 is set to unleash a tidal wave of investment and jobs in the renewable energy sector globally, offering huge export opportunities for low carbon technology and services, along with new potential sources of finance for UK projects. Implementing even the inadequate initial pledges in Paris will boost energy efficiency and low carbon technology in the global energy sector by $13.5trn between 2015 and 2030.

Fourthly, there are more immediate areas of demand. Roll-out of the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme has generated a mini-boom for ESOS-registered lead assessors. Ongoing failure of many smaller firms to submit energy audits after the December 5 deadline looks set to prolong this.

Ultimately, ESOS workload will reduce until the next deadline five years hence, but in many firms you will be still at an advantage if you have that skill as they prepare.

Even more to the point, the energy-saving opportunities already being highlighted are likely to change behaviour and generate new investments. You are likely to thrive if you can see the bigger picture, using your understanding of financing, payback times and project management on low carbon technologies to select the best option and convince the board.

Combining a knowledge of ESOS, the Carbon Reduction Commitment energy efficiency scheme, wider energy management standards such as ISO 50001 and greenhouse gas reporting protocols will also put you in a strong position. The government is looking to rationalise the business energy efficiency policy landscape, very possibly into a single new reporting and compliance scheme, and Paris has pushed carbon pricing further up the agenda.

A fifth opportunity comes in the shape of the smart grid challenge. You will need to be aware that a new policy landscape is slowly emerging to tackle its governance and need for new technical standards, driven primarily by growth of intermittent renewable energy.

The old top-down energy utility models are being strained by disruptive innovation in areas such as distributed generation, micro-grids and energy storage. These will form the backbone of a grid that can in turn absorb much higher levels of renewable energy – and hence more skilled jobs in that sector.

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