UAE’s renewable energy goals depend on skilled workforce

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Thilanka Sooriyaarachchi and Dr Toufic Mezher

Within the next seven years, Abu Dhabi plans to get 7 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy. Dubai, meanwhile, plans to get 5 per cent of its power from renewables by 2030.

These goals will not be met without concerted effort. Effective strategies, significant investment, policy support, world class project development, and perhaps most importantly people will have to be in place to make it all work.

We will need people to develop technology and systems, lead projects, run hi-tech facilities, repair machines, provide funding, and even provide critical administrative staff support. No hi-tech facility, however advanced, can run without people in all these roles.

But which people? To help answer that question, I focused my Masdar Institute thesis research on a comprehensive assessment of the UAE’s renewable energy human capital needs.

And as human capital is interlinked with other needs, I also looked at the renewable energy value chain to develop a dynamic model that looked at availability of human capital, related infrastructure and institutions, and how they affect deployment of renewable energy in the UAE.

The most significant finding from our research is that the UAE’s renewable energy sector could create up to 25,663 job-years of additional direct employment in the by 2030.

These jobs will require engineering, technical, and administrative skills with various educational levels.

The jobs created in the research and development, manufacturing and operations and management fields would be lasting once created.

The occupants of these jobs would be expected to attract new projects to build on their experience and expertise, and thus would continue making economic contributions.

But in order for the UAE to attract the quality human capital its renewable energy ambitions require, it will need to develop appropriate education, training and capacity building opportunities.

Established high quality professionals in the renewable energy field are generally ambitious. They will want to work in places where there is the opportunity to advance and learn.

Work is already underway in this regard, with an increasing number of renewable energy-related forums and exhibitions being organised in the UAE.

And with the establishment of renewable energy-focused degrees like those offered at Masdar Institute, the UAE can develop its own indigenous qualified human capital, with better understanding of local market needs.

We also need to spread the word about the availability of renewable energy resources in the UAE, and the country’s commitment to developing the sector.

This will attract investors and diversify investment beyond government funding alone.

It will also encourage the general population to hold renewable energy in higher regard, in turn attracting more young people to study and work in renewable energy-related fields.

The UAE’s renewable energy sector will help the country achieve its strategic and economic goals, by creating enterprises that both address environmental concerns and provide profitable products,services and expertise. The human capital this sector attracts and develops will not only be integral to the success of those goals, but can bring the country lasting benefits even after they are achieved.

It is our hope this research and others can help guide the strategic efforts of the government in achieving its renewable energy ambitions.

Thilanka Sooriyaarachchi is an engineering systems and management graduate of the Masdar Institute. Dr Toufic Mezher is a professor of engineering systems and management at the Masdar Institute.