- Deploying 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030 will require a significant boost in new skilled workers because too few are available to meet demand, Jeremy Stefek, a researcher at the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, said during a webinar on Thursday.
- An increase in training and apprenticeship programs can help meet that need, and NREL believes that as new skilled workers are being trained, workers in adjacent industries like maritime oil should be recruited.
- Safety certifications for offshore wind projects also need to be standardized, Stefek said.
The national offshore wind energy target of 30 GW deployed by 2030 will require the U.S. to build out domestic manufacturing and supply chains, NREL officials said during a Thursday webinar that reviewed the findings in a recent report.
Relying on global supply chains for clean energy development “is challenging because other countries, other regions, have the same types of ambitious offshore wind targets that we have,” said Matt Shields, NREL’s senior offshore wind analyst. “Manufacturing facilities in Europe are pretty committed to the offshore wind projects also located in Europe.”
In addition, Shields said, the U.S. offshore wind industry is not a “carbon copy” of Europe’s due to differences in ports, wind, sea floor conditions and regulations.
Supply chains can be built out over the 2020s, with the U.S. relying on overseas suppliers in the meantime, he said. The need for skilled workers to operate new wind farms is a more urgent problem.
Not enough workers with sufficient experience to meet the demands of the offshore wind industry are available, particularly as other industries, including other renewables, compete for skilled trade workers, Stefek said. Workers will require years of experience in apprenticeship programs.
Apprenticeships are a “core pathway” for individuals to gain experience in the skilled trades, Stefek said, but the low number of registered apprentices is posing problems for the renewables industry — not only are fewer available, the Inflation Reduction Act also mandates their hiring for developers to take advantage of certain tax credits.
Apprenticeships and other training programs also take years to produce skilled workers, so a spike in trainees would not solve the offshore wind energy’s short-term need for labor.
Stefek suggested that workers from adjacent industries, like workers on oil and gas facilities in the Gulf, could transition to offshore wind with only “a little” additional training needed.
“We could recruit and upskill members of adjacent marine industries as well — an example being the fishing community — to help fill in some of these installation requirements,” he said.
Stefek also pointed to the lack of a standardized safety certification for offshore wind workers as a barrier to deploying more labor. He said this is another reason that maritime oil and gas industry workers, who are trained to work at sea, would be good fits for offshore wind jobs.
The Department of Labor said in a comment that it is “urgently” working to help meet the demand for clean energy workers by improving tools for industry on its registered apprenticeship website, Apprenticeship.gov; partnering with states and other agencies; and contracting with registered apprenticeship industry intermediaries that provide technical assistance to employers.
Shields said that this effort to build out the wind energy sector’s workforce is another reason to focus on expanding the domestic supply chain, so that project cancellations and other factors don’t cause a downturn in demand for wind workers after recruitment efforts are already underway.
“Everyone we talked to in the industry is very aware of that problem,” he said.“No one wants to be closing down factories. No one wants to be laying off workers. So the plan is to step it up to be a very sustainable and predictable kind of workforce and industry.”
Editor's note: We have updated this story to include a comment from the Department of Labor on its efforts to help the renewables industry meet its demand for workers.