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4 trends in the energy and utilities industry and what they mean for grads

Peter Nicholls

What will Australia’s energy and utilities future look like? This is a hot topic among experts, and not without reason: ensuring the stability of Australia’s energy and utilities industry over the coming decades will be critical if we are to meet environmental targets, encourage economic prosperity, maintain our national security, and support high anticipated population growth. Consequently, graduates who are planning to enter the energy and utilities industry will need to be prepared for a variety of large shifts. Here are four industry trends that we think will be particularly relevant to you.  

Renewable energy is increasingly popular

Australia has made huge advances in the field of renewable energy, which promises sustainable sources of gas and electricity. In 2016, renewable energy (predominantly generated using solar, hydroelectric, and wind technology) provided 17.3 percent of Australia’s electricity, the highest proportion of any year so far this century.

One year later, more than 35 renewable energy projects commenced, making 2017 the biggest year in Australia’s renewables industry since the completion of the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme half a century earlier.

For grads, this is exciting news: the boom in renewable energy projects is creating new jobs—as many as 4,100 in 2016 alone. Such roles may be particularly well-suited to grads who are interested in achieving environmental outcomes, such as reducing carbon emissions or encouraging sustainability.

Large numbers of baby boomers are soon to retire

Good news! The baby boomers were babies about 60 years ago, which means that many are now fast approaching retirement age. In fact, demographers predict that, by 2020, Millennials will account for 42 percent  of the Australian workforce, with Gen Z close behind them.

This will, of course, affect all Australian sectors. However, its impact may be disproportionately felt in the energy and utilities industry, which, due to a spate of large scale post-war infrastructural projects, has traditionally boasted a more experienced workforce. For example, according to Forbes, in 2015, more than 55 percent of employees in the oil and gas branch of the energy and utilities industry were aged over 55.

What this means for grads is clear—as baby boomers approach retirement, there will be a sudden increase in available positions, creating room for promotions and rapid career development. However, it also means that grads can’t afford to delay when it comes to taking advantage of opportunities to work alongside seasoned industry experts.

Startups are offering consumers new ways to access energy and utilities

Believe it or not, Australian electricity consumption has declined since 2009, and, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator, it won’t increase by much until 2036.

There are various reasons for this: photovoltaic (solar) panels are increasingly affordable, home battery storage is an emerging industry, and summer maximum consumption loads are expected to plateau as older, less efficient air conditioners (the main driver summer energy spikes) are replaced. At the same time, an increasing proportion of energy is now generated by low-marginal cost sources, like wind farms.

As a result, the market advantage has shifted away from traditional companies with large overheads, and towards smaller businesses that can survive on smaller profit margins while attracting customers with reduced prices.

Some examples include PowerLedger, which allows consumers to trade sustainably generated surplus energy using the public blockchain; Reposit, which allows consumers to switch automatically between different power sources (such as the power grid or home solar panels) to minimise bills; and Mojo, which offers fixed rate prices and buys excess energy from consumers.

The nature of Australian power distribution networks is changing

After reading the above section about startups and declining energy prices, you might be wondering how it is that electricity bills have consistently increased over the past eight years. One reason is that, in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia, power distribution networks are regulated monopolies. In other words, the government owns the grid, and can use distribution fees to fund various initiatives and investments.

However, there are signs of an imminent shift. For example, the NSW Government has been trying to sell partial ownership of its network. Queensland just merged its two state-owned distributors in a bid to reduce prices; and doubts about the long-term relevance of the grid have deterred influential investors. In any case, the possibility of a drop in distribution prices has emboldened startups, while encouraging existing power generators to switch to cheaper (and more profitable) sources of energy (such as wind and solar).

Change and innovation has created compelling career opportunities for university grads in the energy and utilities industry. To search graduate roles in the energy and utilities industry, visit our industry job search page at Prosple Australia.