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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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HomeCulture WarWhere's the manpower to drive Net Zero? Nowhere

Where’s the manpower to drive Net Zero? Nowhere

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POLITICIANS tell us that one of the advantages of Net Zero is that it will mean jobs. A lot of jobs. True, critics respond, but, as the UK has largely abandoned manufacturing in pursuit of emission reduction, many such jobs would go elsewhere – not least to China. That’s correct. But it doesn’t mean that Net Zero wouldn’t mean jobs in the UK. In fact, there would still be a lot, so for once the politicians may have got it right. However they seem to have overlooked a massive obstacle.

To expand the national electrical infrastructure (transmission and distribution) to accommodate the need for a Net Zero economy (a huge task requiring specialist skills), it would be necessary to:

·       install, commission and maintain all the required wind turbines, solar panels and back-up systems;  

·       upgrade the domestic, commercial and public service electricity network;

·       build, install and maintain heat pumps in millions of homes and commercial/industrial plants (having first ensured they’re adequately insulated); 

·       build and maintain millions of electric vehicles; 

·       install and maintain hundreds of thousands of charging points for electric vehicles. 

Jobs to service all this, plus a multitude of other requirements such as the disposal of decommissioned (conventional and renewable) power plants and redundant internal combustion powered vehicles, unneeded gas boilers and so on, will be needed.

A rough calculation indicates this would require the recruitment and training of at least a million (more than 500,000 for the electricity sector alone, according to a recent study) energetic people with an intellectual level and ability akin to those mobilised for industrial work in WWII.

And there’s the problem. In the 1940s very few such people went into higher education; many more went into apprenticeships and other technical training. Today about two million are in higher education – many more than the very few who are being technically trained. To achieve a Net Zero economy a very high proportion of that two million (arguably at least 50 per cent) would have to abandon their university and college plans and ambitions for training in industrial development, project and industrial management, supervision or skilled engineering and labour – electrical and mechanical engineering in particular and specialist skills training such as plumbing, welding, building and carpentry. 

It would also be important to ensure that a high proportion of those remaining in higher education were specialists in practical and relevant areas such as science, engineering, technology, accounting, management, teaching and healthcare. Any further requirement for skilled people would need to come from potential undergraduates, recent graduates and in particular from those university lecturing and teaching staff, administrators, etc who would no longer be required. Would their schooling have prepared them for this?

Despite the reported widespread support for Net Zero amongst the young and throughout academia, how many of them would be willing or equipped to make such a radical change? How many of those studying or teaching English literature, philosophy, palaeontology, theatre, archaeology, medieval history or (in particular) sustainability, social justice or climate mitigation would be prepared to abandon these subjects and train as plumbers? Very few, I suspect. So to recruit the required people, the UK would either have to adopt a command economy – likely to be hugely unpopular – or it might be possible to recruit from overseas, but that comes with the problem that the people with the required skills will be in demand worldwide: the UK is not the only country facing a shortage.

On top of that, the problem facing any Government set on meeting its target of an all-renewable electricity system by 2035 (for Labour by 2030) is further exacerbated by the fact that technical training typically takes about five years, yet a high proportion of such skilled people would be needed at once.

The insuperable skills problem is just one of many reasons why I believe the Net Zero project is unachievable. 

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Robin Guenier
Robin Guenier
Now retired, Robin Guenier has had a varied career as a legal adviser, business executive, writer, speaker and business consultant.

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