Alberta’s skilled workers and the renewable energy transition



Oil and gas infrastructure and training is highly transferrable to green technology

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How can Alberta make the transition from fossil fuels to a renewable energy economy? The truth is, the province already possesses the workforce, the technical savvy and the infrastructure to make that happen.

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The engineering and technical genius that has long allowed Alberta companies to extract energy from the oil sands will be in heavy demand, says Allison Cretney, managing director of the Energy Futures Lab (EFL), an Alberta-based coalition working to accelerate the transition to the energy systems of the future.

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“We also have the skills, the infrastructure and the processes that will be essential to get us there,” she says.

For example, oil and gas drill holes represent both the infrastructure and expertise required to take full advantage of renewable geothermal energy deep within the soil.

As the move toward electric vehicles accelerates, manufacturers are looking to secure the supplies of materials, such as lithium, they’ll require to produce batteries.

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Alberta's Skilled Workers 2
The Alberta Zero-Emissions Truck Electrification Collaboration (AZETEC) project will use Ballard Power System hydrogen fuel cells to power two transport trucks operated by Bison Transport. The pilot project is led by the Alberta Motor Transportation Association and funded by Emissions Reduction Alberta. BALLARD POWER SYSTEMS INC.

“There are high concentrations of lithium in oilfield wastewater,” Cretney says. “We’ve been doing a lot of work with the Battery Metals Association of Canada, which formed out of EFL, to map out a national supply chain for lithium and we’re looking to the Alberta energy sector to help provide it.”

Alberta is already one of the world’s largest producers of industrial hydrogen in the world, which is used by the oil industry to refine oil, or transformed into ammonia to be used for fertilizer. But hydrogen also offers opportunities as a clean fuel for heavy transportation such as trucks and trains, and to supply energy to the province’s electricity grid. Paired with carbon capture, hydrogen can be cleanly extracted from natural gas.

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Alberta’s workers won’t be left out of the clean energy transition.

“Anyone currently involved in construction has skills that will be in high demand as investment increases in green and renewable energy projects,” says Bill Ferreira, executive director of construction labour market information provider BuildForce Canada. “If you’re building a wind project, you’d need heavy equipment operators, mobile crane operators, carpenters for form work and electricians. Hydrogen pipelines would require the same skilled workers used to build conventional pipelines — welders, millwrights, pipefitters, heavy equipment operators, mobile crane operators, carpenters and truck drivers.”

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Engineering massive carbon capture projects would also employ the full range of construction sector skills.

“The oil sands was a massive bet 60 years ago, and represented a very successful public-private partnership” says Cretney. “We need to make some similar bets on the future of renewables to help us find the winners that will help us transition to cleaner energy.”

This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division.

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