National Grid: 400,000 energy jobs must be filled to hit net-zero


That is according to research published today (28 January) by National Grid. Undertaken in partnership with Development Economics, work to develop the ‘Building the Net Zero Energy Workforce’ report assessed how the ways in which energy is generated, distributed and used will need to change in line with the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) recommendations on meeting net-zero by 2050.

It then determined how skills and jobs in the energy sector would need to change to meet these shifts. The analysis’ key finding is that 140,000 workers across the UK’s low-carbon energy workforce are due to leave within the next 30 years – meaning replacements will need to be found – and that a further 260,000 roles will need to be created.

National Grid’s analysis details how the staff in the 260,000 new roles will be needed to build new low-carbon infrastructure, to upgrade existing low-carbon infrastructure, to complete retrofits and to decommission outdated high-carbon assets.

As for the 140,000 existing roles that will need to be filled, the analysis documents a spread across areas such as trade, R&D, manufacturing, logistics and engineering.

Of the 400,000 total roles, National Grid is warning that 117,000 will need to be filled within the next decade if the UK is to meet its long-term, legally binding climate targets. Of the remaining roles, its analysis concludes, at least 152,000 must be filled between 2031-40, before the remainder are accounted for between 2041-50.

National Grid also analyzed the geographical spread of the 400,000 roles, revealing how their successful delivery could create a boon for the North and East of England, as well as Scotland. It claims that more than 21,000 new recruits will be needed in Blyth, Northumberland, while 28,000 roles should be up for grabs in the East of England and a further 17,000 in the Yorkshire and Humber region – largely due to the ongoing CCS projects there. This will be welcome news for the 66,000+ skilled oil and gas workers in the North of England, many of whom will need to seek new roles.

As for Scotland, National Grid estimates that energy workers with net zero-related skills will be needed to fill over 48,000 jobs by 2050.

“Britain reached a major milestone last year as we saw zero-carbon electricity outstrip fossil fuels for the first time – but there’s still a long way to go,” National Grid’s executive director Nicola Shaw said.

“As the pathway to net-zero becomes clearer, so must our understanding of the jobs and skills we need to succeed.”

Shaw said that while 400,000 may seem a high number, it is “the tip of the iceberg in terms of the wider impact of net-zero across other industries”.

Hurdles remaining

The Government estimated in 2018 that there were around half a million workers employed in so-called “green-collar” jobs across the UK. This figure accounts for those directly employed in renewable energy and those in related sectors such as manufacturing and low-emission transport.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is aiming to increase this figure to two million by 2030, but the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) sparked concerns about the UK’s ability to deliver on that target.

Published earlier this month, the ONS’s low-carbon and renewable energy economy data for 2018 states that employment in the UK’s low-carbon and renewable energy economy was equivalent to 224,800 full-time jobs in 2018, up from 200,800 in 2015.

But previous figures from the ONS claimed that there were 235,900 full-time jobs in the sector in 2014, meaning that there has, overall, been a slight decrease in employment in the sector over the past six years.

In order to buck this trend, National Grid is calling for action against four key strategic challenges, namely:

  • A looming retirement “crunch”, with 20% of the UK energy sector’s workforce set to leave by 2050
  • Stiff competition for talent with other sectors, including technology, banking and finance
  • A narrow pipeline of young people pursuing STEM qualifications
  • An ongoing lack of women in the sector – just 8% of apprentices are female at present

National Grid believes that increased climate awareness and activism could go some way to solving these challenges, attracting young people from more diverse backgrounds to the sector. Research by YouGov last November found that a career tackling climate change is the top career choice for one in four 18-24-year-olds. More broadly, the survey found that 57% of adult workers want to be at an organisation working to help deliver net-zero.

But National Grid acknowledges that this growth in interest must be supported by the right policy and financial mechanisms.

“To build a skilled, diverse and motivated Net Zero Energy Workforce that will tackle the global climate crisis, we’ve got to look at every stage of the pipeline,” National Grid’s chief engineer David Wright said.

“We must harness women’s motivation and do more to attract them into a sector they’ve historically turned away from. We must help the existing workforce to reskill, while bringing new talent into the sector by showing the positive impact we can make in fighting climate change. At the same time, we must inspire the next generation to pursue STEM subjects at school and beyond, tapping into the passion we’re seeing in the school climate strikes.”

Responding to National Grid’s findings, Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng said “Tackling climate
change is not only saving the planet but is significantly boosting our economy. As we work to reduce our emissions to net-zero by 2050, the UK has the potential to support two million green-collar jobs across our world-class renewables sector, among other industries.”

Sarah George

Comments (3)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    I have just one question to ask: can anybody out there explain, on a scientific basis, how do slight increases in CO2, as gas at about one fiftieth the concentration of our principal GHG, water vapour, (whose concentration itself varies hugely), have such a huge influence on our climate?

    I can find no satisfactory explanation, but would dearly love to know. The Met Office give me the brush off!!!!!

    Richard Phillips

  2. Richard Phillips says:

    400,000 extra salaries, to be met by National Grid, and passed on to our suppliers, and in turn to us. Something in the region of £12bn per annum.
    With about 25,000,000 house-holds this is in the region of £500-600 per house-hold. Subsidies for renewables already cost us about £300 per house-hold, so by 2050 this cost will rise to just under £1000 per house-hold. Or have I gone wrong somewhere??

    Richard Phillips

  3. Sarah George says:

    @ Richard Phillips. Hi Richard, I wrote this piece. 140,000 of the roles already exist, but the people working them are forecast to leave them by 2050. Of the other 260,000 roles, the majority will not be with National Grid directly. The research accounts for the entire energy sector value chain, including private generation, transmission, manufacturing, decomissioning, construction, and R&D.

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