Beate Hildenbrand, Manager of Offshore and Onshore Wind at the Energy Institute, applauds the crucial role the energy sector workforce is playing during the global pandemic.
Working from home has become the new normal for many of us, at least for the time being as we seek to limit the spread of COVID-19. At the same time, rightly, we all recognise the tremendous efforts of our health and social care professionals who continue to go to work and put themselves in harm’s way.
But there are others we should remember too. After all, how would I be able to type this on my laptop now or make the cup of coffee I’m drinking if it weren’t for the reliable supply of electricity we enjoy.
Amidst the all-consuming media attention on coronavirus so far this year, you can be forgiven for not noticing something quite remarkable achieved in the UK’s electricity mix: renewables overtook fossil fuels for the first time.
Wind, solar, biomass and hydropower sources provided almost 45% of power, overtaking gas as the UK’s primary fuel source for the first quarter of 2020. Strong winds, alongside demand reduction caused by coronavirus, contributed to this record share of electricity generation.
Mirroring the rise in renewables across Europe, where renewable power sources overtook the output from fossil fuels for the first-time last year, it’s the latest milestone for renewable energy which now provides more than a third of global power capacity.
These, however, are not the only remarkable achievements for the wind sector of late.
As governments and citizens grapple with the devasting impact of COVID-19, workers in this sector – identified as critical workers – have quietly continued their essential work to wind turbine generators and associated infrastructure.
In my role supporting the work of G+ and SafetyOn, the health and safety organisations for the offshore and onshore wind sectors based here at the Energy Institute, I’m familiar with this resilience – it’s a workforce that routinely deals with some of the most hazardous weather conditions, working at height and with heavy loads.
The pandemic adds a further layer of concern, which is why we’ve worked fast to convene the sector, regulators and trade organisations to put in place new guidance.
SafetyOn has produced guidance regarding site operations and construction, helping the workforce to carry out operations activities and construction in a safe manner during the pandemic.
Produced in conjunction with RenewableUK and with the alignment of the Health and Safety Executive, it covers hygiene, social distancing and travel, as well as more operational considerations including turbine and substation maintenance, training, medicals and specific guidance for construction.
For the offshore wind sector, G+ continues to play an important role in sharing health and safety good practice guidance. We have just made a coronavirus safety lesson available on the EI’s Toolbox app.
The case study involves an incident in which workers on a small vessel were in close proximity to a crewmember displaying COVID-19 symptoms, and highlights the lessons learned by the vessel operator and crew.
These collaborations show this sector at its best – putting aside competitive rivalries to advance their shared interest in raising the bar to better protect the workforce, assets and the environment.
So while our health workers are – rightly – being applauded as the heroes they are, I urge you to also spare a thought for our industry’s critical workers – men and women across the energy sector who are working day after day to keep the electrons flowing and our lights on.