As students contemplate their next step in their careers in 2020, the energy sector offers current and future employment opportunities, as South Africa renews its efforts to create alternative energy sources (renewables) and better manage current energy production (coal-fired).

This is the opinion of Barry Bredenkamp, General Manager for Energy Efficiency at the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI), who points out that there is significant opportunity for South Africa’s energy sector to catalyse the growth and development of our economy, particularly in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“According to the IRENA Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review 2018, the widespread adoption of renewable energy technologies creates employment opportunities up and down the supply chain. Worldwide, the sector employed 11 million people at the end of 2018. Internationally, solar photovoltaics (SPV) remained the top employer among renewable energy technologies in 2018, accounting for a third of the sector’s workflow.
“The energy sector is currently in a state of major change, with new technologies and consumer patterns and demands all helping to shape an increasingly complex energy landscape. It is an exciting time to be involved in the industry.

“What is needed are technically trained people from artisans to researchers, focused on the energy challenges of the country. You do not necessarily need a STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) degree to work in energy and, just as in any other rapidly growing industry, there is high demand for service providers. However, the renewable energy sector will foster the high-skill labour market, with 70 % of positions in renewable power generation being created in the highly skilled group (Matric+).

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“Depending on the region you would like to work in and the growth opportunities, you might consider looking at different sectors within the industry. In the US, the fastest-growing profession is a wind turbine technician and 46% of large firms have hired additional workers to address issues of sustainability over the past two years. Jobs in the South African renewable power generation are concentrated in the services, construction and manufacturing sectors. At present, only 8.8% of South Africa’s power is generated from renewable energy sources, leaving room for much more development. Solar photovoltaics is also a growing market, as we take advantage of the suns’ power to provide hot water to homes and electricity to off-grid areas.

“With the South African government’s 2019 integrated resource plan, planning to build over 22 GW of new wind, solar and storage capacity up to 2030, and its decision to scale-up renewables, employment (measured in job years), can be expected to increase by an additional 40 % in the next 10 years.

“Moreover, working in the energy industry nowadays may bring extra job satisfaction, knowing that you’re doing your bit to improve the environment and help deal with climate change,” concludes Bredenkamp.