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Although the technology behind Wind Power has been long established, it has only recently grown in popularity. For example, just 20 years ago, the UK only had two offshore wind turbines, powering 2,000 homes and now the region has more offshore wind capacity than any other country in the world, producing 20% of its energy.

But what does this surge in popularity mean for the energy industry and the engineers that operate within it?

Which countries are Wind Power Pioneers?

The UK has long been viewed as a pioneer in the wind sector, and this was clearly demonstrated in April and June of this year when the UK went 67 days without using coal power. However, as the entire world begins to consider the challenge of decarbonisation targets, the UK is likely to find its top spot overtaken by other countries who are rapidly upping their wind capacity, with Government support and supply chains to match, particularly in the Asian markets.

Although Asia’s first offshore wind project, in Japan, was only completed in 2003, by 2018 China had surpassed the UK as the world’s top market in new installations. China is expected to continue to dominate the Asian offshore wind market in the first half of the 2020s, with a 70% market share, followed by Taiwan, which has made wind power a key part of its green economy vision.

China is also the world’s largest manufacturing base for onshore wind, with a strong local supply chain already in place. The Chinese onshore wind industry has committed to reaching grid parity by the end of 2020 – earlier than any other established onshore wind market.

To increase its offshore turbine capacity, six Chinese turbine manufacturers have created models which can create more electricity, all introducing offshore turbines of more than 8MW in the past 18 months. After a 10MW PMG turbine prototype was rolled off the production line at Dongfang Electric, and a 10 MW model released by CSIC Haizhuang in 2019, Mingyang unveiled its MySE 11 MW-202 medium speed turbine in June 2020, making it the largest hybrid-drive turbine in the world.

While China particularly is pressing ahead, more widely the Asian offshore wind market is still at the early stage of development. Each market is facing the challenge of developing the necessary capabilities to build an offshore wind industry. While a large volume of new capacity (4-5 GW/year) will be built in 2020 and 2021 in China, this is being driven by Government subsidy, which ends in 2021 and sees the number of projects drop off significantly after this point. The challenge facing the country is what happens after this, and whether a more local subsidy model will be introduced.

Thousands of Wind Turbines expected to be installed over the coming years

These growing markets are aware that a healthy supply chain is key to growing their renewable sector capacity. In Taiwan, the Government has set out a localisation strategy, which aims to consolidate the entire supply chain in Taiwan, making everything from turbine components to submarine cables to shipbuilding.

Meanwhile, from 2025, more utility-scale offshore wind projects are set to be connected in North Asia, not only in Taiwan but also in Japan and South Korea. In South East Asia Vietnam is positioning itself as a renewable energy leader, building the mammoth Thang Long project. At 3.4GW, this will be one of the world’s biggest offshore wind farms once completed. The project is still in the early stage and its first 600MW phase is planned to be completed by 2022.

However worldwide, for now, GWEC Market Intelligence predicts that Europe will remain the largest regional offshore wind market in terms of total installations by 2025 and 2030. The UK is holding its own with the Dogger Bank Project in Yorkshire under construction and it will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm by the time it starts generating power in 2023. It is owned by Forewind, a consortium made up of SSE, RWE, Statoil and Statkraft and will be able to power four and a half million homes.

As of December 2019, 119 sites had been granted planning permission for more UK onshore wind turbines and 12 more were under construction. The UK currently has around 2,000 offshore turbines, which will likely be replaced in coming decades by lower-cost, larger, more powerful installations.

Engineers will experience a high demand for a range of technical skills

As more ambitious targets are put in place and the appetite for wind energy grows, so does the need for a trained workforce, both on wind farms and throughout the whole turbine supply chain.

According to an Energy & Utility Skills report, the UK offshore wind industry will need to have 36,000 people employed by 2032 – a massive increase from the 10,000 employed in 2018.

Meanwhile, it has been estimated by the Global Wind Energy Council that these emerging offshore wind markets, in North America, China, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, and South Korea – will require more than 77,000 trained workers by 2024. One only needs to look at the huge $1.1bn investment BP made in offshore wind power last week with the $1.1 billion purchase of U.S. assets from Norway’s Equinor ASA to know how significant wind power will be in the future.

The renewables sector is still young but needs to attract high-quality candidates from other sectors including oil and gas, and we predict it will be a very tight labour market.

Matt Underhill, Managing Director - APAC region, NES Fircroft commented ‘Right now there is high demand for a range of skills from site managers, to discipline engineers, logistics and supply chain, health and safety managers, and commissioning and installation professions. We’re also seeing specific demand for wind turbine technicians and technical writers across the region. It is worth noting that staffing projects across Asia can be fraught with danger for those that are new to the region. ‘Right to work’ requirements can be complex, as are the needs to payroll compliantly and manage project teams on the ground. The good news is that the local talent pool is growing, and where the skills are short there are still ways to mobilise overseas talent, even in the COVID environment in which we are currently operating.”

Working with a recruitment partner with an international footprint and cross-sector knowledge will be particularly important for those companies, and countries, that want to stay ahead of the skills curve.

NES Fircroft and Renewable Energy

At NES we’re excited to see such a sustained and unprecedented growth in renewable technologies supporting the energy industry across Asia. 

If you’re looking for skilled personnel for your wind project our discipline-specific consultants can support all stages of your renewable project life cycle, from the funding, design and installation phases’ right through to project management and grid installations.

We work on some of the most exciting wind projects in Asia, meaning we have plenty of renewable job opportunities for engineers looking to enhance their energy careers.