30 Mar 2023 .

Powering up careers in renewable energy

PD Team

The renewable energy sector will see huge growth in the coming years as international efforts to tackle climate change by reducing carbon emissions become ever more important.

From wind turbines to solar panels and battery storage to hydrogen, clean and renewable energy sources are increasingly familiar to all of us. Renewable energy is now our country's largest source of electricity, generating 43% of our annual power needs. But this still needs to accelerate in order to meet our carbon reduction targets. It is a good time to get on board and become part of a thriving sector.

The UK’s green industrial revolution is a key part in the government’s plan for growing the economy and creating high-skilled, high-wage jobs across the country.  In May 2022, the government announced the creation of the Green Jobs Delivery Group to help ensure the UK has the skilled workforce it needs to build clean industries – it plans to support the delivery of up to 480,000 skilled green jobs by 2030 that will be created and supported thanks to policies set out in the Prime Minister’s Energy Security Strategy and Net Zero Strategy.

The number of jobs being created in the renewable energy industry is growing four times faster than the overall UK employment market. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (annual review 2022), the UK wind industry supports around 34,000 jobs, and this is set to continue rising incrementally to support the expected growth.

Playing a central role in helping to offset the impact of climate change, the UK's renewable energy industry is at the forefront of technological development, with a range of careers available for graduates, including graduate schemes and apprenticeships offered by many leading employers.

Alex Wray, Software Development Manager, leads the software development team within Natural Power’s Innovation and Digitalisation Department. His team is responsible for all in-house software development as well as day to day application support for third party software.

Since joining the business in 2018 the team has grown from six to 20 – located across the globe from Alaska to Glasgow to Strasburg. And it won’t stop there. He’s looking for bright, enthusiastic problem-solvers to grow with the team. No formal qualifications are required, but a background in maths or computing is beneficial.

He said: “We’re solving new challenges every day – finding solutions to real life barriers to growth in renewable energy. By working hand in hand with the analytics team, we’re developing new intellectual property and new commercially viable applications that support the continuous improvement of our business operations and the support we provide to our clients. For example, exploring all facets of AI (artificial intelligence) and fast-tracking the processing of wind turbine inspection materials into eight minutes – a job that usually takes several hours.”

“Not only is the work fascinating and rewarding, but we look after our people, they are truly valued, and it’s a great place to work. Across our wider business, we’ve had people leave for pastures new, but then return soon after, and that speaks volumes.”

Andrew Smirthwaite (30) from Armadale, has been with Natural Power for a little more than a year and a half having joined as a software engineer straight from college. His professional life didn’t start out smoothly after he was asked to leave school early with no useful qualifications. The first few years of his career included a variety of construction-related labouring roles and a window installation job, but he decided he needed a change.

In 2016, he enrolled at Forth Valley College to study an NC in Computing which then led him on to a BSc (Hons) degree in Data Science at the University of Stirling, and he is now part of a graduate apprenticeship scheme at Natural Power – working four days a week and studying one day a week, while earning a fulltime salary.

Since joining the business, he’s worked on a number of projects including the Performance Centre, which aggregates a wide variety of client and climate related data into one place, and a new analytics platform focused on driving efficiency through automating data processing.

Andrew said: “I was keen to join the renewable energy industry because I really wanted to do something meaningful. Natural Power has enabled me to continue pursuing my education whilst earning, and it’s great to be part of a like-minded team where we have the flexibility to learn, deliver really brilliant work and achieve a good work-life balance.

“We’re all part of a growing team, in an expanding industry, and there are lots of opportunities for taking on more responsibility and developing our careers somewhere we can really make a difference.”

Greig Myles (30) a software engineer from Falkirk joined Natural Power two years ago as an intern before being taken on full time in April 2022. The internship role was an integral part of his BSc (Hons) Software and Cybersecurity integrated degree – the first two years of which came through Forth Valley College, with the latter two years being completed through the University of Stirling. 

At school, Greig aspired to join the army, but a heart condition meant this would not be possible. So, he left without many qualifications and took on a series of low paid jobs, from grass cutting and lorry driving to agency work in logistics and warehousing. After several years moving around from job to job, he decided to play to his strengths. He was good at computing at school and enjoyed technology and maths, so he went back to college on that basis.  

He said: “I’m really proud of where I’ve got to today. While the internship was part of my degree, I was interested in renewables and so decided to apply for the role and just fell in love with what we were doing. The renewable energy sector is vitally important to us all, and I wanted to be part of something that really makes a difference in the world.

“We have a really good team, the people are great, and we’re making applications and finding solutions to real world challenges every day. Right now, for example, my main role is developing the EchoSense product - a smart bat curtailment technology that helps to protect endangered bat species at wind turbine sites.

“We want to be the best solutions provider for renewables, and it’s exciting to be part of an ambitious team, all pushing in the same direction for the greater good.”

After completing an HND at Forth Valley College, Arran Bell (27), a software engineer, also went on to complete a BSc (Hons) degree in Software Engineering and Cybersecurity at the University of Stirling. During his time at Forth Valley, he also found Natural Power through the internship programme, and has been employed full-time since June 2022.

Leaving school with no qualifications, Arran initially worked in a variety of tradesman roles, labouring to a joiner and other construction work. After a grim winter working outdoors, he moved to the fast-food chain KFC – a job he kept through his time studying.

“Having moved around in various jobs, I knew I was neither happy nor challenged, and wanted to find something more sustainable in the long-term. I had always enjoyed IT and fixing computers, so decided to head down that route.  

“After applying for the summer internship at Natural Power, I thought about returning to university to study for a masters and aim towards a career in teaching, but having enjoyed the work and the team so much, decided to stay on.

“Since joining Natural Power, I’ve worked on an AI model for computer vision to detect damage to wind turbines, as well as internal project management and resource planning software. It’s challenging but really interesting. Everyone in the team works to an amazing standard, producing the best work that we can, and optimising standards across the board. I’m really proud of what we achieve.”

Everyone in the Innovation and Digitalisation department is allocated 10% of their working week to personal development – an activity of the employees choosing. This results-driven, motivated, and ambitious team benefits from flexible and remote working, balanced with quality time spent with other team members, to achieve a really positive work-life balance.  

And it’s not just about careers in IT and software.

There's a huge breadth of roles and career pathways available in renewable energy. A single renewable energy project requires the contribution of people from a range of backgrounds and skillsets; from ecologists, planners and project managers, to engineers, communications professionals, business developers and even drone pilots.

You could work outdoors on land or at sea, in an office or in a laboratory. Many roles provide opportunities to travel and work in a variety of different environments across the globe. Working in renewables offers the chance to be part of an exciting, growing industry as well as playing a part in the protection of the environment – from saving rare species and protecting human life to, of course, helping to optimise our wide range of natural resources to create a long-lasting, sustainable source of energy.

There are around 6,500 active businesses in the sector, with jobs spread throughout the country. It’s an industry that isn’t dependent on London and the southeast corridor, and in fact many of the UK-based jobs available have a truly global dimension to them.

Find out more here...