US Renewable Energy: Opportunities, threats and lessons learned from over the pond

10 mins

Paul Francis heads up Amoria Bond’s Executive Search Renewable Energy Division. In this fasc...

By Paul Francis

Associate Director

Paul Francis heads up Amoria Bond’s Executive Search Renewable Energy Division. In this fascinating analysis of the changing face of the US Energy market, Paul calls upon 20 years of personal experience in the power and executive search industries. He outlines the exciting incoming opportunity but warns of the challenges employers will now face in securing the right people to power their projects.

The monumental change taking place in the US is a spectacle to behold. No more is this shifting political thrust so evident than in the country’s energy sector. The Trump years of fossil fuel reliance and business as usual are out: renewable energy has been hurled back on the table. 

The demand for clean energy is driven by climate change concerns and the country’s massive CO2 footprint. But it’s also to serve the needs of a growing population and the associated demand for sustainable infrastructure and transportation.

While the Trump administration sought to keep fossil fuels and conventional automotive production going as long as possible, much of the rest of the world moved on. Yes, change is coming to the US… and fast!

One of a flurry of executive orders signed recently, President Biden penned into action his ambitious $12 trillion commitment to tackling climate change. The “super-charged” climate plan includes a nationwide green energy infrastructure overhaul, plus the creation of 10 million clean energy-related jobs. 

The incoming president has labelled climate change a national security threat and wants to see a carbon-free national energy sector by 2035. This bold posturing, combined with the news that fossil fuel subsidies will be eliminated from federal budgets next year, means that - suddenly - a huge amount of work must be done. 

The US recruitment and staffing market is immature from a renewable energy perspective. This presents both huge opportunities and fresh challenges for an industry that has become over reliant on conventional sources and is now out of step with the greener vision shared by much of the developed world. 

My teams have been preparing for the opportunities and analysing potential project pinch points over the last few years. It’s an exciting time for firms like ours, with proven executive search skills and deep knowledge of the whole development life cycle of renewable energy assets. 

Solar farm and on- and offshore wind projects, are coming to life in a big way. In a country that remarkably suffers more energy brownouts than any other developed nation - costing the economy between $18 billion and $33 billion every year - there are also major prospects for transmission, distribution, and energy storage projects.

The giant landmass and coastal areas of the United States offer substantial untapped potential, but there is an urgent demand for the best people to steer the right progress forward. It’s fair to say that the US now faces a situation in which the demand for candidates in key positions far exceeds the current supply. 

Pre-pandemic, it was the norm for highly skilled power professionals to move from project to project globally, following market demand. Indeed, over many years in this space, Amoria Bond has placed over 6,000 people into positions across 40 countries. But then Covid-19 came along and shook up the recruitment space. Whilst most renewable projects have continued without delay, we find ourselves in an interim ‘new normal’ period; one in which Green Cards are hard to come by and most positions must be filled by US nationals. 

Here lies the immediate concern for many organisations: a national skills shortage.

Organisations from IPPs to utilities, from grid companies to investment banking firms are calling out for senior professionals - CEO’s, CFO’s or Directors of HR; the original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s) need industry-savvy sales people to promote their renewable technologies; and some of the developers and EPC (engineer, procure and construct) contractors need all of the above!

The senior people so urgently needed have a rare blend of skills to find. And frankly, in some situations, they don’t exist at all. Some of the more transferable engineering, electrical and civil skills can be moved over from major ongoing construction projects. But, business leads who possess the right blend of technical, commercial and leadership skills - and who understand large scale solar or wind farm development - are much harder to find.

In the types of role my team and I recruit for, one day you might be involved in discussions and site visits with local landowners, farmers and government departments; the next you could be talking with investment banks who will finance or buy the project. 

These people need to understand land acquisition. They need to know the environmental and planning processes, to oversee the mapping out and design of a power plant. To negotiate with the finance houses and to analyse how much power can be generated and who it can be sold to. And then there are the many challenges of connecting to the grid to consider. It’s a dynamic array of complex hard and soft technical, managerial and personal skills that are simultaneously in extremely high demand and highly scarce.

So how does an organisation find the great people they need, and fast? This is where my team and I step-in and power up your recruitment processes. Amoria Bond is a multi award-winning company with a global footprint in the more mature renewable energy markets across APAC, Europe and the UK. 

Already placing senior professionals into top energy jobs across the US, our teams are in a prime position to help domestic and international firms to respond to the demands of the country’s green energy roadmap. They have a proven track record of successfully mapping and bringing in allied talent from other complementary engineering industries with a similar supply chain and construction.

Over the last few years, we have been building relationships with great renewable energy professionals across the US. If you want to secure the best people for your projects, you cannot rely on traditional recruitment methods - such as advertising or cold calling candidates - when an opportunity arises.

Only around 17% of the candidate pool is actively looking for work at any given time. These people are often immediately available and unhappy in their current positions - but that doesn’t mean that they are necessarily the right fit for yours. 

With this in mind, we turn the traditional recruitment model on its head. We work proactively with the best’ passive’ candidates to nurture relationships before any appropriate roles even become available, those who stand head-and-shoulders above the active candidate pool. 

We invest significant time to understand a person’s technical know-how and managerial skills, to appreciate their career ambitions and the type of working environment and team structure they thrive within. When the ideal job does become available we already have the candidate’s understanding and trust, which means that many of these people - hidden to the wider market - can be offered to our clients on an exclusive basis. And because they were not actively seeking career opportunities, they tend to have more buy-in for the opportunity presented and are less swayed by inevitable counter-offers from their current employer.

Bringing a deep knowledge of the UK, European, and Asia Pacific energy markets, we are now successfully helping US firms to learn from company and country mistakes, offering valuable knowledge.

We watched as favourable tax breaks and incentives encouraged green energy production across the world, and we’re excited to see this model reaching US shores. For example, many of our energy clients relocated to Germany to take advantage of the renewables boom there. Our consultants not only helped to secure the best talent but once the generous incentivisation offers began to dwindle, we then helped these firms to take their new skills and experience and follow the market to other parts of the world. The insight gained from this compelling work will enable us to support US firms in selling their operations - and their brand - in new parts of the world when fresh opportunities arise. 

Reputation is key in the US market, and thankfully, Amoria Bond’s is award-winning. Indeed, the company has picked up more than 70 winners trophies and accolades including: four times winners of ‘Best Exec Search and Placement’ at the Recruitment Business Awards; the Queen’s Award for Export Enterprise; and Global Recruiter’s Best Client Services. This strength of reputation is further evidenced through our high customer loyalty ‘Net Promoter Score’ (NPS) of 63 company-wide, and 83 for the Executive Search Renewable Energy teams (compared to an industry average of just 40). The team and I are incredibly proud of our 'world-class' NPS scores, which reflect our unswerving commitment to delivering Best Service through a relationship-led and partnership focused approach. 

A recognised industry leader, Amoria Bond has been a driving force in putting social values and corporate social responsibility on the recruitment and staffing industry agenda. The company’s long-term partnership with US-based non-profit ‘One Tree Planted’ has seen us plant almost 16,000 trees planted to date - including in California following the state’s devastating forest fires. This is a legacy everyone at Amoria Bond's incredibly proud of, and our clients and candidates can be too - amongst many other triggers we plant trees every time we receive a completed NPS survey.

With deep technical knowledge of the energy sector, unrivalled relationships with the best renewable energy professionals and the lessons learned credentials gained over many years in mature renewable energy markets we can help your business succeed - be it transmission line of offshore and onshore solar, wind or battery storage projects on the decarbonised, electrified horizon.

Contact Paul today to discuss how he and his team can help your business.