How will trends in the renewable energy sector impact the NDT industry?

My energy bill this month was eye-watering! We are one of the families affected by the collapse of the energy companies over the last few months. As I write, the fragility of our gas supplies now that Russia are testing the resolve of Western nations on the Ukraine border is really apparent. Energy supplies have never been such a hot topic!

This does not even take into account the importance of finding energy supplies that are green and therefore not toxic to our planet. Very recently, COP26 highlighted the immediate need to reduce emissions to stop climate change. Although pledges were made to get us to 41.9 Gigatonnes by 2030, there is still a way to go to get to 26.6 Gigatonnes we really need in order to keep global warming down.

It is not surprising that renewable energy is being promoted as one of the key areas of investment in our times. I for one, welcome it. If we can find green energy sources that can be produced in our country, I am all for it. Not only will it be good for my pocket, make our power supply more secure and be good for the planet, renewables will also lead to more business for non-destructive testing companies.

What is the state of renewable energy in the UK?

Wind power is by far the biggest and most successful form of renewable energy in the UK. Currently, we get 25% of our power from wind power. This supplies 18.5 million homes in the UK.

This figure is only going to rise. The renewable energy sector is projected to have a 10% Compound Annual Growth Rate increase from the period 2022-2027.

Since 2020, the UK has been one of the leading countries in the offshore wind market, and this area of renewable energy is set to increase the most during the coming years. The government aims to reach 20 GW by the end of 2030.

In particular, there are ambitious projects in place for large offshore wind farms in East Anglia. East Anglia One is currently being developed, and there are already plans for East Anglia Two and East Anglia Three. Hornsea One is another notable project, with Hornsea Two being built at the time of writing. It is due to be in operation by 2022

What does this increasing shift from coal-based power production to renewables mean for the NDT industry? How can we prepare for this shift in energy suppliers? I thought of three areas. 

1.      New marketing strategies

As non-destructive testing company business owners, we need to assess where our current contracts are coming from. If your company has an overreliance on servicing the oil and gas sector, you need to review your marketing strategy and make changes. Ask yourself some simple questions:

Do potential clients know we serve the renewable energy sector?

If people do not know that you serve their sector they are not going to make an enquiry. So, check your website. Do you have a page for the energy sector? Do you create any content online that demonstrates you can competently work in that sector?

Do you have an understanding of this sector’s needs?

Do you have an understanding of the renewable energy sector audience – their needs, requirements, test requirements, and struggles? Can you write content for our website that speaks to that audience?

Do you have a marketing strategy?

Breaking into a new sector, or reaching those clients requires thought and strategic planning. This goes with any sector. If you are serious about growing your company, you need to plan to reach this growing market effectively. This will require a long-term marketing strategy.

2.      Upskilling technicians

The renewable energy sector requires tests that are suitable for materials specific to this sector (e.g. fibreglass and composite materials) and shapes that have a complex geometry (e.g. turbine blades). Testing methods that are most commonly used in this field are Eddy Current Inspection and Phased Array Inspection. This will mean that we need to upskill more technicians to handle these materials and shapes. Ask yourself these questions:

Are you existing staff thoroughly trained in these areas?

Take an audit of your existing staff and their skill sets. Are there any who would benefit from additional training? Are there any who could add to their skill set?

Do you have a supply chain of new staff?

A lot of companies panic, not knowing where to get suitable staff from when enquiries come in. You need to assess this problem in two ways: short-term and long-term.

Short term, consider finding another NDT company that you work with as a mutually beneficial partnership. There are so many benefits to this, and I have written about this before. A good partnership can plug gaps in short-term or emergency situations. It can also provide another revenue stream in quiet periods.

Think longer-term in this area too. Do you have a local college that you can link with that runs apprenticeship schemes? Training new people on the job can seem time-consuming, but you can often instill the work ethic and work quality you want in new recruits in a way that is easier than with more established staff.

3.      Investment in new technologies

Drones are by far becoming one of the main investments for NDT companies servicing the renewable energy sector. Collision tolerant drones with lighting systems, 4k video cameras, and thermal cameras are increasingly being used to service offshore wind farms.

There has also been development in the quality of 3D scanners – handheld and larger.

Both these technologies can be used in other sectors, so investing in them does not mean you are putting all your eggs in one basket in terms of the sectors you can grow in.

New opportunities, new investment

No matter which way you cut it, the potential development of the renewable energy sector is tremendous and this means that there is plenty of opportunity for new business for those of us engaged in the non-destructive testing industry. However, with such a shift in our power-creating infrastructure in the UK, it is inevitable that investment on part of the business is required. Whether that is in new marketing techniques, upskilling technicians, or new technology, money is required in order to ensure the longevity of a business. This can feel overwhelming. But, if one takes a long-term approach and puts a plan in place, much can be achieved.

If you are interested in talking about our testing services for the renewable energy sector, please get in touch. We would be delighted to speak to you.

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Contact us for a quality testing service with a fast report turnaround. We can respond to any challenge.

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