Sustainable Scotland conference: Digital and data are vital for green future

Scotland needs to build on the green skills base it already has and not just focus on long-term future strategies, The Scotsmans’ Green Skills conference heard this month.

Scotsman Green Skills Conference 17/11/21 Royal College of Physicians

Mhairi Creanor, circular skills and education programme manager at Zero Waste Scotland, said it was vital to make progress now, based on actions that can be implemented immediately.

“My timeline isn’t 2045,” she said. “It’s not even 2030. It’s actually this week, it’s tomorrow, because the demand and the requirements are here right now.

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Creanor said we didn’t need to “reinvent the wheel” but could instead focus on “seizing the data that we have from all of our projects and our innovations”.

Scotsman Green Skills Conference 17/11/21 Royal College of Physicians Steve Aitken, founder, Intelligent Plant

The Green Skills Jobs Hub could provide the focal point, strategic alignment and co-ordination of what is already happening in Scotland, Creanor suggested.

“The point of the hub is to signpost people, no matter where they are on their journey… to the relevant support [through] a variety of learning pathways.

“For example, what if you are a plumber in East Kilbride and have heard about this COP26? You know you need to do something, but have no idea what [net-zero] means for you – which services do you need to apply to? What support is there? That’s a real-life situation we’re in just now.”

Creanor said Scotland had to move quickly from policy to impact to boots on the ground, especially in areas like retrofitting Scotland’s homes to make them energy efficient – a massive project which lacked time, money and skills to implement effectively.

Scotsman Green Skills Conference 17/11/21 Royal College of Physicians Mhairi Creanor of Zero Waste Scotland

This meant a rapid response from the skills system to “mould our courses, our training provision, and our response to what’s actually there,” she said.

Creanor also called for the greater use of meaningful internships to make the best of young people’s passion for environmentalism; to tap into the motivation and awareness of the green generation. She said: “When it [the passion and motivation] goes into the workforce, much of that can get displaced.”

Marc Strathie, head of research and policy at ScotlandIS, the membership organisation for country’s digital industries, said digital skills would be crucial in rising to the challenges presented by the continued shift towards a green economy.

“Covid-19 has taught us that digital does truly underpin everything,” he said.

“While much of the workforce is now in a better position when it comes to digital literacy and digital skills, there is still a lot of work to be done.”

The lack of digital skills across the workforce was a fundamental problem for the UK becoming a world leader – and in Scotland, there is no dedicated digital minister despite the importance of the agenda.

Strathie told the event employers continue to under-invest in training, even in areas where skill shortages are particularly acute.

He said more than ten million people in the UK workforce currently lack basic digital skills, the majority of them aged over 55, with many working in sectors where digitalisation will be crucial to keep the UK competitive internationally.

Laura Paterson of the Net Zero Technology Centre said there were already many positive examples of traditional energy sectors pivoting to use green technology.

She said: “I think more and more, we’ll see jobs that focus on using these technologies. It’s estimated that by 2025, there’ll be 4,500 new jobs that don’t exist today. It’s about thinking through how we can use those different skills and transferable skills within those new jobs – things like robotics, AI and digital transformation.”

Andy Wiliamson, head of energy transition at Opito, the global skills and standards body for the energy industry, explained how it was increasingly working into the green energy space.

He highlighted Opito’s work with the UK Government and industry to deliver the North Sea Transition Deal (NSTD), focused on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector, decarbonisation and electrification of prevailing assets, accelerating hydrogen and carbon capture and storage.

He said: “The most important NSTD workstream focuses on people, and Opito is leading the development of a people and skills action plan to provide a roadmap for workforce mobility across the energy sector. I am both hugely excited and optimistic about our ability as human beings to collaborate in the interests of the transition.”

Williamson said collaboration had to extend to understanding that a wide range of technology solutions would be needed to make it to net-zero.

“In technology terms, it’s not about one thing or another, it’s [this] and this, and this.

“We will have oil and gas for the foreseeable future, but we have to decarbonise and find low-carbon solutions at the same time. We have to encourage uptake of renewables in different tech areas. There are differences in how we go about delivering that agenda but great minds thinking alike are very powerful.”

He concluded: “If we encourage collaboration in the workforce, encourage leadership, encourage young people – and we have got the technology – we will be the envy of the world.”

Maximising the use of data will help sector’s efficiency

The energy sector needs to learn to use data more effectively to reduce waste and increase efficiency.

Steve Aitken, pictured, of Intelligent Plant, which provides data monitoring to optimise performance across the energy and power industry, said: “Some organisations do not even know they have the data; some have it and cannot get to it. And if you can get the data out of a turbine, you need to do that securely.”

He highlighted an ongoing project with the Orbital O2 tidal turbine in Orkney, where Intelligent Plant was looking at hundreds of data points to see how the turbine was performing and where it could be more efficient. The data included wind and sea speeds, temperature, the way the blades were moving and performing, and the amount of power being generated.

“Our software is helping see what the turbine is doing and to optimise how it works. How can we get the most out of it? We want to do that for everyone in renewables.”

Aitken also described a project involving batteries that could be recharged any number of times and said: “We can see massive change happening. Threat comes with change but the opportunity is huge.”

Sakshi Sircar, of the Net Zero Technology Centre, said that the centre had been set up to accelerate innovation and the development of technologies to further the energy transition – “de-risking the initial plunge into utilising technology to reduce carbon impacts in the offshore energy industry”.

Sircar said the readiness of the oil and gas industry to embrace digital technologies in the shift to net zero was inconsistent, with issues around reluctance to share data collaboratively – between organisations and within a business itself.

She added: “There needs to be more understanding of using digitalisation across the whole business and not just for a certain process or area.”

Marc Strathie of ScotlandIS said there were big skills gaps in areas like data science and analytics, artificial intelligence and digital engagement. A ScotlandIS survey showed 70 per cent of employers thought data skills were crucial, while 29 per cent were concerned about basic digital skills.