Ajai Ahluwalia, a young member, who works for Equinor New Energy Solutions, spoke at Prospect’s Parliamentary launch for its new pamphlet, “Act Now to Re-energise UK Renewables”. Here is an edited transcript of his speech.
Good afternoon everyone.
First, I would like the thank Prospect for giving me the opportunity for me to speak to you all today and to give you a snapshot of my own experiences, as well as my views.
Secondly, I'd like to thank you all for attending today. I appreciate that there are a lot of other big issues that are currently being discussed so I will try not to mention the B-word.
That said, I feel that this is more important given that we are living and working in uncertain times. This only strengthens the initiative that Prospect has started here.
So, why am I here? Am I a manager or a CEO?
No, I'm an electrical engineer. I've worked in offshore wind for the last eight years. So, I've had pretty good experience in seeing how it's grown from a relatively immature industry to one that is quite mature.
It's a multi-billion pound industry that is employing thousands of people across the country, as well across the world.
I've also worked in gas an oil industries as well as military aviation industries.
My interest in renewables started more than 20 years ago in high school when I was doing a small design and technology project to make a wind turbine. This interest really matured in university when I gained a greater engineering understanding of wind turbines.
A really good example of what I studied at university was a wind farm in Denmark, a country that really led the way as regards offshore wind. To give you some context this was 2006. That wind farm consisted of 20 2-megawatt turbines. 40 megawatts in total.
Ten years later I was working on a wind farm on the north Norfolk coast called Dudgeon offshore wind farm, which was 10 times that size with turbines three times bigger.
I am now working on wind farms that are 1 gigawatt in size that can supply more than one million homes.
In my current role, I design the conceptual electrical system and infrastructure, from the grid connection all the way to the turbines themselves.
This is a fantastic and fascinating role as the technology challenges are significant as we're driven to build these offshore wind farms further away, but at lower costs.
We're all trying to get this magical thing called ‘subsidy free’ renewables but those challenges of building an offshore wind farm and connecting it to the grid are very complex.
On top of that we're also trying to make sure that, as increasing penetration occurs, i.e. more renewables connected to the grid, we can try to balance out that source so that we can address the issue of intermittency.
Then, we can really progress with that transition in a correct way, be it by storing in batteries or indeed things like green hydrogen.
While my current role sees me more behind a desk than on site, I joined Prospect three years ago when I became the commissioning lead for Dudgeon offshore wind farm’s onshore substation - that's the connection to the National Grid.
I was increasingly taking responsibility for technical and safety decisions on complex issues which spanned challenging interfaces. As such I wanted to ensure that as an individual, I had the support I required should the need arise.
Saying this, I want to assure everyone that the company I work for is a responsible employer. I never needed it in that way, but you can never predict what's going to happen.
It was when I became a member of Prospect that I learnt more about the organisation and how it helps members through topics such as guidance on the European Time Directive, gender pay gap and BAME leadership.
Coming back to the industry and where we are heading, I am positive that renewables should continue to grow and develop over the next decade.
You only have to think about things such as the sector deal. We have seen in the last 10 years approximately 10 gigawatts of offshore wind being installed. The sector deal will see us looking to install a further 20 gigawatts by 2030. Essentially doubling what we have installed already, so it's a massive challenge.
But I feel that we 're not grabbing the opportunities available in such an endeavour, as part of this green transition. A perfect example of this relates to recommendation number one in the Prospect policy document regarding the skills crisis.
As I mentioned before, I was lucky enough to have my interested sparked at a young age but I wonder today if students are being given the same opportunities and indeed careers advice to let them know that the jobs are actually there. That if they are willing to study and train in the right areas, there are these high quality jobs available to them.
I've worked on and had the pleasure of also working with other people of different ages, ex-servicemen being a fantastic example of how people leaving their military career then go on to retrain in the offshore industry. They are very professional and positive people.
In collaboration with others I believe that Prospect's policy positions through its members and previous experiences, for example in the nuclear industry, are really vital to the industry.
We really do have this win-win scenario where, with an ambitious approach, we can address the issue of climate change, while providing high quality and rewarding jobs that literally help keep the lights on.
The renewables energy industry is one of the most exciting and dynamic places to work. It addresses key issues like climate change, providing energy security, providing high quality employment, but with that pace, dynamism and passion, we sometimes lose sight of the principles and protections that have evolved in the UK over the decades.
This is where I think Prospect provides a crucial role in informing and supporting employees and employers in this growing and maturing industry.
Take, for example, the massive push in the contract for difference auctions that will be occurring next year.
As developers we are looking at every single aspect of how projects can be refined and optimised, so we can ultimately win the auctions and build. However, what we may increasingly see through ambitious targets and goals is that that this can come at a cost such as the well-being of workers.
Prospect can step in to this space and ensure that employees, employers and contractors and sub-contractors are protected.
I have had the privilege to be part of the renewables story in the UK for the last eight years. During this time I have seen a lot of change but now I do feel that we are at a critical junction where we can lead the world by example or continue with the piecemeal approach where we simply don't achieve our potential.
This Prospect briefing provides an essential vision into what you should consider when thinking about the future of renewables in the UK.