People - the hidden barrier to achieving net zero emissions 

By Alexander Stickler | October 5, 2023

The renewable energy industry is on the cusp of a global supply crisis.

Simultaneously, the widespread accessibility to clean, sustainable, renewable energy is paving the way for extensive electrification, Power-to-X initiatives, and the decarbonization of power grids and heavy industry, such as steelmaking.

Shortages of vital equipment and key resources have the potential to impede the transition and escalate costs and wait times. Businesses, communities, and nations, of course, don't have time to wait or waste as they are eager to reduce CO2 emissions. 

One of those key resources is people. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the transition to net-zero is expected to create 14 million jobs by 2030,[1] which coincidentally is the same year that the Paris Agreement has called for a 43% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.[2]   

Undoubtedly, the widespread implementation of affordable renewable energy will be attainable given the addition of wind and solar power, and essential components such as high-voltage transmissions lines and storage systems. 

The question is: will we have people with the skills and experience to do the planning, designing, engineering, construction, oversight, and testing of these renewable energy sources?  

While economies of scale and other efficiencies may alleviate a one-to-one correlation between renewables growth and labor requirements, the short answer is no.  

To underscore the need for additional personnel, forecasts indicate an exponential increase in the growth of renewables in the coming decades. This projection is based on the expectation that renewables will replace thermal assets that are being phased out, supply the necessary input electricity for electrification of heavy industries and transportation, and support the electrical needs of a continually growing global population.  

To date, the renewables industry has maintained a state of balance with respect to the demand and supply of labor and skilled resources, But that is changing: the U.S. Interstate Renewable Energy Council reported in 2021, that 89% of solar companies surveyed for the National Solar Jobs Census said they had difficulty finding skilled applicants.[3] COVID-19 may have influenced that figure but doesn’t account for all of it. Qualified people to work in the renewable power industry are in short supply around the world.  

At an operational level, what does a shortage of people really mean?  

  • It means design, engineering, and technical resources involved in the front-end development of projects will be lacking.
  • It means that to facilitate a supply-demand balance, we will see new suppliers, constructors, and others joining the industry because it is underserved; they will face a steep learning curve. While some will argue that renewable energy is “simple”, to learn and understand, several decades of know-how and good practice have led to decreasing equipment costs that help make wind and solar the most cost-effective energy generation technologies currently deployed. Newcomers to the industry may not have the full skill set to achieve efficient, high-quality outcomes for projects.
  • It means that the industry in Europe, which has transitioned from government-supported, feed-in tariff programs (e.g., Germany and Spain) to market-driven power purchasing agreements will accelerate growth in renewables. This, in turn, will limit the ability to direct human resources — virtually or physically — to the most active market. All markets will be actively in competition for skilled resources. 
  • Operating projects will also be competing for resources when the focus is on new projects and accelerating growth. Moreover, operating projects are already expected to have useful lifetimes of more than thirty years. They, too, will need more attention to keep operating economically and safely. Some undertakings may be automated but nonetheless, the geographic dispersion of renewable energy power plants (compared to their more centralized predecessors) will inherently demand more resources and advanced skills.    

How can Hatch help with these concerns?

We create smarter solutions for the world’s toughest challenges. 

Since the founding of our hydropower business in 1924, our capabilities have evolved to meet the relevant needs of our clients. These include: 

  • Engineering and installation of islanded power plants for metals smelters using Hatch-designed electric furnaces around the world. 
  • Hybrid power solutions deploying Hatch’s Microgrid controller (such as Raglan Nickel Mine’s wind-battery-diesel-electrolysis hybrid in northern Quebec operating successfully since 2014)
  • Wind project design, engineering, and execution in Canada, the USA, South America, Africa and Australia
  • Multi-gigawatt green hydrogen and ammonia projects in which we are currently involved. 

For the renewable power to green hydrogen/ammonia projects, we are studying and engineering in close collaboration with our clients. And we are engaging all the disciplines at Hatch, from permitting, interconnection, and renewable energy power supply through the process plant, storage in many forms, and water purification. All the way to the port infrastructure that serves as an egress point for saleable products and the incoming supply of materials for construction of these visionary, nation-building industrial projects. Renewable electricity is not just an over-the-fence input utility commodity, but rather a key, integrated element that shapes and defines the sizing, operations, and configuration of the process plant, its ancillary requirements and vice versa.  

Related content:
Challenges in renewable energy
Climate Change and Sustainability

We are actively implementing smarter solutions and are committed to addressing the human resource crunch by growing our renewable energy, storage, transmission and studies teams in all the major regions in which we work. We are developing bespoke in-house training for new graduates, co-op students (#wearehiring), and existing staff within our 10,000-person strong organization. We are working closely with universities and other educational institutions to develop curricula that meets the needs of a rapidly growing and evolving industry, and innovating efficiencies within our work processes to be able to deliver projects faster, while maintaining the quality outcomes that the Hatch brand is known for and what our clients expect.  

On the operations side, we continue to evolve our capability and capacity to analyze renewable power assets to achieve their fullest potential, minimize downtime; and assess their useful lives, long-term safety and integrity, and evaluate repowering or life-extension scenarios.  

Whether you are a regional or multinational utility, independent power producer, investor, or the developer of a mega-project, we can support your needs.  We act like owners while partnering with clients to provide innovative, unique, cost-effective solutions. Our long history of knowledge and experience in renewable power — started nearly 100 years ago — is unparalleled in the industry.  

Let Hatch help you achieve your goals. Use our past as a foundation for your successful future. 

[1] The International Energy Agency: Net Zero by 2050 – Analysis
[2] The Paris Agreement: What is the Paris Agreement
[3] U.S. Interstate Renewable Energy Council: National Solar Jobs Census 2021