Renewables - Championing the Green scene

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2007 saw European Union leaders agree to binding targets on the use of renewables in a bid to rapidly expand the use of green energy sources. The government signed up to a deal to ensure 20% of all European energy was to be derived from renewables sources by 2020. The UK alone has committed to cutting its emissions by 60% by 2050, although without a sufficiently skilled workforce in place to design install and maintain new technology this may not be achievable

The building services engineering (BSE) sector has a major role to play in meeting UK targets by ensuring that training structures are in place to support the move to renewable energy, which include solar thermal, photovoltaics, micro-wind, biomass, ground and air source heat pumps, and micro CHP.

As the sector skills council for the BSE sector, SummitSkills is heavily involved in a variety of activities to ensure the industry is geared up for the shift to renewable energy.

Research conducted by SummitSkills at stage two of its Sector Skills Agreement (SSA) - the Assessment of Current Provision - established that some qualification content is out of date or not suitable for sector needs, in relation to specific renewables and environmental technologies. Consequently, the UK is lagging behind in the requirements to be able to design, install and maintain technologies. As a result, SummitSkills has been updating the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for the sector to integrate renewable technologies into mainstream qualifications and ensure approved training and assessment is put in place as soon as possible.

At government level, the organisation is currently working centrally and regionally to reinforce the crucial role the BSE sector has to play in the development of the environmental technology market; with specific reference to renewables.

There is a close link between the skills of existing sector routes and new technologies. SummitSkills views this link not as new career roles, but as an extension of existing careers and industry approved qualifications, with additional specific technology training related to the work carried out. Consequently, SummitSkills has been working with the Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (IPHE) to develop of the minimum technical competence requirements for the integration of environmental technologies into the appropriate Competent Persons Scheme.

Microgeneration needs
Microgeneration is a key part of the government’s strategy to help combat climate change, and is currently promoted through the Low Carbon Buildings Programme.

SummitSkills is the sector skills council for microgeneration and commissioned a report in early 2007, supported by Engineering Services Training Trust Ltd and the Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association (HVCA), to assess current provision and the measures in place for training on microgeneration technologies in the UK.

The report spelt out the need for the industry stakeholders to work closely with SummitSkills to champion renewable energy training on a local, regional and national level to ensure a skilled workforce.

The report resolved there are currently few microgeneration courses in combined heat and power and hydro, with only a limited number of these actually leading to a recognised qualification, particularly in wind and solar-PV. It also highlighted the lack of benchmarks for best practice in the installation of renewable energy systems, which SummitSkills feels is responsible for hindering the development of training courses It also recommends that funding is increased to improve the training facilities available.

Manufacturers and sustainability
In addition to its focus on training provision, SummitSkills also operates a Manufacturers and Sustainability Interest Group to identify and support emerging environmental technologies.

The group links with employers, professionals and employer associations to drive the government on the development and uptake of best practice in renewables. Part of its remit is to ensure technical skills training is in place, and to involve manufacturers in competence and accreditation schemes.

This group complements SummitSkills’ Interest Groups that enable employers to air their views and develop solutions for skills and training requirements in the BSE sector. This helps to form future strategies and objectives for SummitSkills.

Renewable energy in Wales
SummitSkills has been involved in liaising, on behalf of the Welsh Assembly Government, with residents to reduce the planning process for small-scale renewable energy generation equipment, such as solar panels or wind turbines.

Current laws make the process unattractive to homeowners, proving lengthy and expensive. Professional installers, surveyed by SummitSkills, believe this market could grow significantly if the planning process is improved, leading to greater productivity. The Welsh Assembly Government plans to improve energy efficiency in 200,000 Welsh homes by 2020.

Moving forward
Extensive research has established the need for change in the education and training provision in the sector. As part of its sector skills agreement, SummitSkills has taken this research and incorporated it into stage three of the project - a draft action plan that reveals five key skills priorities to be addressed in order to develop and maintain a skilled workforce.

The five priorities are:
- Professional image and competence – promoting a positive image of the sector
- Communication and information – creating a knowledge centre for all sector skills development needs
- Training provision – ensuring proactive, quality and relevant training
- Funding – flexibility in funding to meet fast-changing needs
- Management and leadership – supporting the sector to plan and develop profitable and competitive business

Tackling environmental technology provision relates directly to the third skills priority – training provision. As part of this priority SummitSkills lays out a proposed solution for the lack of appropriate skills, building on its existing work on developing and implementing National Occupational Standards (NOS) for current and emerging environmental technologies to embrace craft and professional occupations. It is key to ensuring that environmental technologies are fully integrated within other activities, such as the careers strategy and apprenticeship training frameworks.
SummitSkills’ work encompasses a broad spectrum of activities, all key to ensuring that the BSE sector has an appropriate infrastructure in place to succeed on renewable energy training strategy. It is vital not only are installers and engineers trained in these technologies, but they are trained to a recognised standard. In order to achieve this successfully, SummitSkills needs commitment from all partners within the sector for continuous improvement – only then will we see a competent, highly-skilled workforce capable of meeting the demands of the industry.

For further information on progress in environmental or renewables specific skills, visit www.summitskills.org.uk/renewables.

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