As the renewables industry grows at an exponential rate, an increasing number of specialists from other disciplines are joining the support team. From GIS specialists to IT experts, HR managers to legal executives, here’s what industry newcomers need to know about this unique, exciting sector, writes JANINE THOMAS
Get ready for a rollercoaster ride
Renewable energy is ramping up at an incredible pace. Constant updates from the Government, the EU, the WHO and various COP gatherings among others mean that renewable energy targets and goals are constantly changing to put an increasing emphasis on the importance of renewable energy. Then there’s the technology, which is moving so fast that game-changing innovations in areas such as wind power, clean hydrogen and battery storage will soon become reality.
I joined FuturEnergy Ireland in 2021 as communications manager after working as a journalist. I wrote about sustainability and have a passion for climate action, but pivoting into renewables was a huge learning curve due to the sheer amount of information out there and the constantly evolving nature of the industry. Yes, it’s exciting, but it’s a lot to absorb.
Every day’s a school day but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. I’m lucky to have a highly supportive team who patiently explain policy nuances and the more technical aspects of their work.
There’s a passion among the people
The renewable energy sector is right up there in terms of career feelgood factor. The FuturEnergy Ireland team share a passion for climate action and a genuine drive to create a more sustainable world for our children and our children’s children. This comes across in their actions, enthusiasm and the way colleagues go the extra mile.
Land manager Jeanette Byrne joined FuturEnergy Ireland last year after working as a legal executive for a law firm. “The overwhelming sense of working towards the common good is striking,” she says.
“Expect to learn far beyond your own discipline from your colleagues from a variety of specialisms working together cohesively and collaboratively. The opportunity for creative thought and problem-solving in an effort to achieve the end goal is also refreshing.”
GIS specialist Laura Fox was also surprised by the level of commitment and hard work. “I have never experienced anything like it,” she says. There is always a focus on striving to keep up with and implement the latest developments and technology.”
We love an acronym
Do you know your TDR from your TSO? Your CLO from your PM? Let’s not forget the RFI from ABP to expand on the EIAR and NIS, and are those 2006 or draft 2019 WEGs? Meetings can be a minefield when you first start as colleagues glibly reel off a list of acronyms in every sentence.
Our tip? FuturEnergy Ireland’s PMO manager Jenny Collins, who joined us last year, made a list on the intranet of all the possible acronyms and explainers – and don’t be afraid to ask if you come across a new one. And remember, to the outside world, all of these potentially maddening abbreviations need explaining in full.
Deadline? What deadline?
After working in a newsroom, where daily deadlines had to be met or an editor with gnashing teeth would have your head on a stick, the timelines for wind projects, which take years from concept to operation, seem the other extreme.
Don’t be fooled, the pressure’s still on even if you’re not used to the long timeline, so get organised and keep the end goal in sight. That Government target of 80% renewable electricity by 2030 is approaching faster than you think.
Slugs are stakeholders too!
For many specialists joining the industry, the principles of the job are the same, but the operating environment is entirely different. This was the case for PMO Manager Jenny Collins, who previously worked in the IT sector, which she found much more predictable. “In a renewables project, you are working with the natural environment which includes floods, storms, endangered species, birds, bats, bugs, forests, bogs – there are a lot more unpredictable outcomes and the projects reflect this,” she says.
“I’m proud to work for FuturEnergy Ireland because we take our environmental responsibility very seriously. Project timelines are long, but this is because we try to make the right decision every time for every stakeholder, right down to the smallest slug!”
Get country savvy
Working with local stakeholders to wind projects involves a unique skillset that the community engagement team need to master to build strong relationships. When Shane Lowry got out on the ground, he quickly learnt how to break the ice with local homeowners. With biscuits. “If you’re knocking on doors, have a packet of chocolate tea cakes or Kimberley’s with you if you are invited in,” he advises. “Build up a good bladder for the copious amounts of tea you will drink.”
Small talk is also essential to build connection. Shane’s subjects of choice? “Know your GAA and read the Farmers Journal weekly.”
Wind farm sites are in far-flung corners of the country, so be prepared for narrow lanes, potholes and Google Maps glitches. Brush up on your driving skills and country driving etiquette, advises Shane. “You’d better be good at reversing back down narrow roads as oncoming tractors trump your car every time.”
Expect to become a climate activist
The more you learn about renewable energy, Government policy and climate inaction, the more impatient you are likely to become. Kevin Donnellan joined the FuturEnergy Ireland team as a Community Liaison Officer last year and feels this frustration. Yet this is also spurring him on to be part of the renewable energy evolution.
“What has really surprised me is the reality of the transition from burning fossil fuels to renewables to lower carbon emissions,” he says. “We have a very good Government road map and FuturEnergy Ireland has the expertise and sites to deliver on renewable energy targets, but there are many roadblocks ahead. We must use every opportunity to find ways around these roadblocks through motivation and action to deliver on climate change.”
You’ll be harvesting rain water, popping on an extra jumper instead of the central heating and saving up for an electric car before you know it…
Published in the Irish Wind Magazine, Spring 2023