Study identifies nature and potential demand for skills within the renewable energy, residential retrofit and electric vehicle sectors.

The government has unveiled a report by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) – ‘Skills for Zero Carbon – The Demand for Renewable Energy, Residential Retrofit and Electric Vehicle Deployment Skills to 2030’.

Steep reductions

This report was developed in the context of the need to urgently accelerate the transition to a zero carbon economy, as reflected in the binding targets for emissions reduction over the next decade, and ultimately, carbon neutrality by 2050. In Ireland this will be driven by the government’s Climate Action Plan and the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act, which seeks to achieve steep reductions in Ireland’s carbon emissions by 2030.

The report outlines recommendations for consideration with regard to the overall delivery of  the Climate Action Plan in that 10-year timeframe, in areas it identifies as representing 'Zero Carbon' activities: 5GW of offshore and up to 8GW of onshore wind energy generation, 1.5-2.5GW of solar energy generation, the energy efficient retrofit of 500,000 homes to a minimum B2 BER, the installation of 600,000 heat pumps, and the target of having 840,000 electric cars, and 95,000 commercial vehicles, on Irish roads.

The report advises on the nature and quantity of the skills required by these Zero Carbon sectors over the next decade, and will help inform the broader response put in place in order to deliver on the targets set for renewable energy generation, built environment energy efficiency and sustainable transport.

Skills for Zero Carbon was informed by a comprehensive consultation exercise with enterprises and key informants from across the renewable energy, retrofit and electric vehicle sectors. The report defines the zero carbon economy – the challenges involved and existing employment levels; sets out the core occupations and skills; identifies best international as well as domestic practice for the development of zero carbon skills; and identifies a range of broader issues related to skills development in zero carbon activities.

From a skills perspective, the report details how the transition to a zero-carbon economy will lead to changes in sectors and occupations, the phasing out of existing roles, but also demands for new skills and competencies, as well as employment opportunities, in the new zero carbon economy. Consistent demand will be created across engineering, environmental, science and humanities and legal/professional roles, as well as in construction, retrofit, transport and logistics and electric vehicle maintenance.

Wind and solar energy generation

The study forecasts that in order to deliver on the Climate Action Plan targets, employment in wind and solar energy generation will have to quickly increase to 8,000 (from a 3,000 baseline) within a number of years, and ultimately stand at 9,000 by 2030, while the workforce engaged in residential retrofit and heat pump installation will similarly have to ramp up quickly and increase more than fourfold (from c.4,000), to stand at more than 17,000 for the remainder of the decade. The existing motor mechanic workforce will meanwhile need to be transitioned to work on electric vehicles as EV uptake increases.

The report sets out thirty recommendations for zero carbon economy stakeholders to ensure that sector can deliver on the demands that will be placed upon it over the next decade. These are spread across six themes: (1) renewable energy, (2) retrofit, (3) electric vehicles, (4) promotion of career pathways in zero carbon economy activities, (5) alternative sources of skills supply for zero carbon economy activities, and (6) public sector programme management and carbon accounting skills.

These recommendations were developed by a broadly-based steering group established to guide the progress of the study. This group was representative of key zero carbon and skills development stakeholders from across the public and private sectors.