The search for new energy sources is continuous and on an almost incomprehensible scale.
The International Energy Authority (IEA) suggests around $10.5 trillion needs to be spent by 2030 to address the need for environmentally acceptable power generation and that is in addition to the money that needs to be spent in oil and gas exploration and extraction.
This is a field that is both vital and vibrant but it is also highly technically challenging.
The expenditure will be largely focused on complex facilities like nuclear power stations, offshore wind farms and large-scale grid upgrade. This will require a high degree of engineering competence to ensure the facilities are built on time, to budget and more importantly they operate safely and reliably.
If we relate that back to the $10.5 trillion bill the world is facing to secure next generation supplies, we must also look at the need for the professionals who will deliver it.
Atkins has calculated that around 500,000 additional new engineers will be needed in the next two decades worldwide, with around 15,000 required for the UK alone.
The UK figure is higher than many countries because of a number of factors: our energy infrastructure is aging, the average age of the engineering workforce is rising and we have ambitious carbon reduction targets. The last point is most relevant as it brings the need to deliver new energy technologies such as wind, marine and tidal power.
This is in addition to the revitalization of the nuclear sector which the coalition government spoke positively about again last week and which should be boosted by an imminent announcement on a floor price for carbon emissions. All of this means opportunity for companies and individuals with advanced technical skills in areas such as structural engineering. They will need to have the ability to work in highly regulated environments and have the kind of mental agility needed in order to innovate new solutions.
The challenge for the sector is two-fold: transferring engineers from less buoyant areas into the ones that have most need, more training within industry and encouraging greater take-up of engineering courses at university. The latter is vital with governments legislating to move closer to a low carbon economy – a challenge that engineers will have to play a major role in tackling.
These issues are not insurmountable and the industry itself is starting to seek out the right skills.
Evidence of that comes from the expectation that the oil and gas industry alone will be stepping up its graduate recruitment by around 50 per cent next year to cope with rising global demand.
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill may have an impact on that because of the tragic loss of life and terrible cost to the environment, but we believe it should also serve to reinforce the need to encourage the brightest graduates into the sector.
The mission now is to produce secure energy in a manner that does not threaten life or nature and this is a challenge that requires the best brains that industry and academia can provide.
The UK's dilemma is that our universities currently produce around 12,000 engineering graduates each year.
It is a reasonable number but put into the medium term context that the wind power industry may need around 1,000 new entrants each year, the nuclear sector will need similar numbers and so will the oil and gas industry and it is clear that the pool of engineers is too small at present.
International recruitment may be needed and re-training is already happening. This is excellent for the UK because we are positioning ourselves to fill the gaps in the economy which may start to appear and at the same time we are positioning ourselves on the world stage.
It is often said the UK bears responsibility for a sizeable proportion of the carbon emissions in the atmosphere, as Great Britain was the father of the Industrial Revolution. True, but it is also correct that we gave birth to some of the most original thinkers and brightest engineers the world has ever seen. This is a legacy to be proud of and to be built upon.
Engineering is a profession that has the ability to raise countries up, solve the issues of energy and water poverty and do great good. While the challenges can be great and the responsibilities immense, this is a profession that must flourish.
Atkins Director warns evolving energy industry needs a lot more engineers