Can Aberdeen’s oil and gas skills make the energy transition?

As the Aberdeen energy sector diversifies in response to climate change, the skills and innovations of professionals in the city may also diversify to drive the energy transition.

Aberdeen’s established oil and gas industry has contributed to UK energy for decades, boasting world-class technical and commercial expertise. New and existing skills are now required to help energy companies diversify beyond fossil fuels.

The North Sea Transition Deal marked an important partnership between the UK government and the oil and gas industry, with the goal to implement new infrastructure, innovative technologies, and skills to meet net-zero. The deal aims to support up to 40,000 supply chain jobs in CCUS and hydrogen, and to decarbonise oil and natural gas (UKCS) production. In response to the deal, OEUK reported that the oil and gas sector needs to continue to attract and retain diverse talent during the transition.

Diversifying the oil and gas workforce

© Supplied by VisitScotland
Aberdeen Maritime Museum.

There are many ways professionals can utilize their existing skills, from reservoir engineers involved in geothermal drilling, chemical engineers applying their experience with natural gas to hydrogen, to geoscientists using subsurface skills for CCUS, and electrical engineers optimizing renewable electric power networks.A report by Robert Gordon University (RGU) indicated that over 90% of North East Scotland’s existing oil and gas workforce has medium-high skill transferability to parallel energy sectors.

There may be a wealth of oil and gas skills in Aberdeen that can be applied to the energy transition, but the report mentions that it will be important to retain as many of the existing oil and gas jobs as possible, “until sufficient new roles become available in the adjacent energy sectors”, adding that “ensuring the existing oil and gas workforce can fully access future renewables jobs will require a managed and coordinated transition.”

Meeting skills demands

Core competences in large scale infrastructure and safety critical environments are important in the renewables sector, plus expertise in gas engineering, operations, power grid management, among many others.

Skills will be crucial to the success of the renewables industry, but there will be challenges finding appropriate skill. Appropriate planning will be required, according to an SDI article. Plans could incorporate pipeline programmes to support new talent in the sector, help workers reskill from other sectors, while supporting upskilling for companies and employees.

One of the biggest renewables skills gaps is in offshore wind. In 2021, a third of UK offshore wind was based in Scotland, which equated to around 3,500 jobs, according to RenewableUK’s Offshore Wind Skills Intelligence Report 2021. The UK’s existing offshore wind workforce has increased to over 32,000, a 4% increase compared to the end of 2021.

A report by the Offshore Wind Industry Council (OWIC) projects UK offshore wind jobs exceeding 100,000 by 2030. It suggests that the industry needs to attract and retain around 10,000 people each year to manage the expected offshore wind project pipeline, recommending a new approach to recruitment and retention.

Pathways into offshore wind

The Offshore Wind Sector Deal was published in March 2019, presenting a government-industry partnership to raise productivity and competitiveness of UK companies harnessing offshore wind.

The Energy Skills passport was designed to help workers identify gaps in training skills and certifications needed to work flexible in the offshore energy sector. In collaboration with partners, OPITO awarded £5 million from the The Scottish Government’s Just Transition Fund to support it, and enable fast-track movement in the workforce. The Energy Skills Passport was due in the first quarter of 2023, was delayed, and is still due to launch.

OPITO led the development of The North Sea Transition Deal’s Integrated People and Skills Strategy in 2022, which highlights opportunities for the transition in the offshore energy industry, including wind, petroleum, hydrogen and CCUS. Michael Love, head of Skills Policy at OPITO tells Energy Voice: “Identifying, training, and transitioning the workforce is one of the greatest challenges we face when we consider how we will achieve our national net zero targets.

“We recognise that the current career pathways and transitional opportunities across the wider offshore energy industry can be unclear and fragmented, yet evidence shows much of the skillset of the UK’s oil and gas workforce is transferable. The strategy’s objective is to ensure availability of the estimated 211,000 offshore workers who’ll be required by 2030 as the journey to net zero gathers pace.”

“With the support of industry, governments, trade unions and standards bodies, OPITO is committed to making the strategy’s supporting action plans a reality. This includes the concept of an energy skills passport, which will help frame standards recognition opportunities across the oil and gas, offshore wind and related sectors for the benefit of the workforce, with safety at its core, and building a repository of consistent and comparable data through the UK Offshore Energy Skills Intelligence Hub.”

“This initiative will create a complete picture of the people and skills needed in our industry between now and achieving net zero by 2050. By creating a single source of industry-wide data, we can make targeted interventions and build capacity to benefit the current, and future, energy workforce.”

Aberdeen organisations accelerating change

The skillsets of Aberdeen’s energy professionals need to be efficiently “unlocked” to keep up the fast-growing demands of this new green era. Several organisations in Aberdeen are actively providing investment and skill-building opportunities to address this need.

Opportunity North East (ONE) is helping oil and gas supply chains diversify, while securing investment to generate sustainable green jobs; a priority for the region’s energy economy. ONE helped create the concept for the The Energy Transition Zone (ETZ) which provides a hub for research, development deployment, and commercialisation of net zero technologies: particularly in offshore wind, hydrogen, and CCUS. ETZ aims to support a green economic recovery, while delivering jobs for the region.

Aberdeen is also home to The Net Zero Technology Centre (NZTC) which works with industry partners to fund and develop emission-cutting technologies, having kicked off many technologies and start-ups. It started in 2017 with £180 million of UK and Scottish government funding, as part of the Aberdeen City Region Deal (ACRD).

ETZ Ltd’s Skills Project manager, Lauren Braidwood told Energy Voice: “In order to support the energy transition, it is crucial that we retain this valuable workforce and provide upskilling opportunities to allow those people and skills to transfer to low-carbon sectors. ETZ Ltd is committed to equipping North East Scotland’s workforce with the skills to maximise employment opportunities and have recently launched our dedicated Jobs & Skills plan.”

© Supplied by SDI
Lauren Braidwood, ETZ Ltd’s Skills Project manager.

“We aim to prioritise the creation and retention of sustainable energy jobs, as well as deliver a just transition for local communities. Our skills-related initiatives will engage with industry, schools, further education and higher education institutions to provide accessible and inclusive training at all levels.”

“These activities will support the creation of sustainable, quality jobs and ensure local people have access to relevant training and employment opportunities, helping the region become a global leader in energy transition activities.”

ETZ Ltd also supported the launch of X-Academy through the Scottish Government North East Economic Recovery and Skills fund which is a non-profit leading skill developments for the energy transition, taking “Xccelerators” through a two-year supported development programme, usually working on real industry, low carbon projects.

Energy transition focused education

aberdeen energy transition © Shutterstock
Energy rransition is on the horizon in Aberdeen

Aberdeen is known for its two universities that have a strong current focus on the energy transition. Robert Gordon University is home to the RGU Energy Transition Institute and is generating skilling opportunities in CCUS, hydrogen and electrification.

In Old Aberdeen, the University of Aberdeen remains an important centre of education for the energy industry. After launching its Centre for Energy Transition in 2021, some energy transition focused courses have been available, including Master’s degrees and online upskilling courses.

Those who study MSc Renewable Energy Engineering can explore theoretical and practical applications for geothermal, solar, biomass, hydro, marine and wind. Students of MSc Sustainable Energy Geoscience apply geoscience interpretative skills for CCUS, sustainable mineral extraction, geothermal flow, and subsurface storage.

Energy transition research from across the university is brought together to offer many other skills, ranging from decommissioning to process engineering and policy.

Professor John Underhill, Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Energy Transition previously commented: “Being situated in Aberdeen, Europe’s Energy Capital and a city renowned throughout the world for technological development and inspiring solutions, we are best placed and well connected to understand the needs of the industry and make a real difference.”

At the frontline of green energy

Academic courses can be a helpful way to enter the green energy sector. Christopher Banks, who’s role once focused on petroleum reservoir modelling, currently helps design end-to-end sustainable energy solutions at a major energy technology company in Aberdeen.

“Every oil worker needs a plan B and the energy transition is the growth area. I kicked off my change by self-funding a Masters in Sustainable Energy Solutions at UHI,” he shares.

Reflecting on the energy transition in Aberdeen, Banks comments that “Aberdeen has project managers, engineers, and scientists who are used to making big projects happen. It has the individuals that have made the impossible possible.”

These skillsets can be repurposed, but he emphasises that the energy transition in Aberdeen and across the UK requires huge-scale change: “It needs vision from corporations, national and local government, but it also needs individual motivation to make a difference.”

New opportunities needed for change

If Aberdeen is able to sustain green job opportunities and investment, the city could eventually become a global energy hub for delivering net zero. Much depends on governmental support, and key decision makers to accelerate North East Scotland’s green energy transition.

New opportunities are being generated by organisations in Aberdeen such as ETZ and X-Academy, but for some, academic education has been the way, whether it be through an energy transition focused master’s degree or an online course.

On top of Aberdeen’s wealth of skills in oil and gas, it will be the city’s innovative groups, educational hubs, and self-motivated professionals who all help to guide the UK energy sector towards a more sustainable future.

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