Crash-hit oil staff are not spilling into wind


November 9, 2015

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Severe pain in the oil sector has been one of the biggest stories in the world energy market this year. Maybe even the last decade.

Oil prices have crashed in the last 18 months and the effects have rippled out across the energy sector. Oil may not directly compete with wind, but low oil prices do still affect the wind sector in a series of ways. For example, they put pressure on politicians to provide more support to the fossil fuels sector rather than ‘costly’ green energy; and tempt stock market investors away from renewables yieldcos and towards underpriced oil firms.

But, according to Statkraft’s chief executive, the effects are not all bad. Christian Rynning-Tønnesen said that job cuts in oil and gas firms made it easier for renewables firms to find energy experts to fill key roles. It is a nice idea but, to us, it does not ring entirely true.

We can see where Rynning-Tønnesen is coming from.

Statkraft is a huge Norwegian utility with operations in hydro, wind, gas and district heating. If there is a lull in the gas division then the company may well find more gas experts willing to embrace a new challenge in wind and hydro. A choice between going green and no job is not much of a choice at all.

However, we do not see that this is representative of the energy sector as a whole.

We are publishing our annual Top 100 Power People report tomorrow but cannot think of a single person who is new to the list this year after making the move from fossil fuels. If there is a move from the oil sector to wind then it is not yet showing in the top roles.

And Tom Hopkinson, founder and managing director of renewable energy recruiter Taylor Hopkinson, says he is not seeing it in the middle-management levels of companies either.

Hopkinson says that a potential influx of top fossil fuels executives into wind has been talked about for years, but has not happened because renewables has not been able to compete on salaries or project complexity.

In short, those working in fossil fuels have traditionally seen sectors such as wind as too small to entice them to make a shift — and there is no evidence that they are moving now.

The other question we have is why wind companies would want to bust pay structures to bring in those with oil and gas experience when there are wind professionals available. We do see some markets growing fast in mainland Europe and Latin America but, in the main, there is not a skills shortage that means wind firms need to look outside the sector.

Meanwhile, in the offshore sector, the experience of oil professionals in building offshore oil platforms is less useful now than it would have been a few years ago. We have seen a series of offshore wind farms completed successfully, and the experience of doing that is far more directly useful than expertise in fossil fuels. The development slowdown in the offshore wind sector in Europe also means there are people available with this knowledge.

It is undoubtedly a good thing if experienced oil people want to make the move into wind. Clearly, wind should never turn away talented and enthusiastic people. But those people will have to compete on an equal footing with those already in the sector.

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