Transfer of skills from oil to renewables: interview with Khaled Kaddour, former Minister of Energy of Tunisia

Are the skills of the oil & gas sector transferable to renewable energies? Faced with the acceleration of the energy transition, this question worries energy professionals. To answer it, we met Khaled Kaddour, former leader of large oil & gas companies, then Minister of Energy of Tunisia. Over the course of his experiences in the private and public sectors, he has become an ambassador for green energies.

How did you switch from fossil fuels to renewable energies?

Khaled Kaddour : I switched to renewable energy when I was preparing my doctorate in strategic studies in 2005, after 20 years working in the oil & gas sector. This is an area that has allowed me to see more of the energy sector, both by looking beyond oil, and by extending my knowledge of Tunisia internationally. I was able to better understand the challenges of the energy sector on a global level, in terms of the environment and the economy. It became essential for me to reflect on the possibilities available to us to change the situation. Renewable energies are a lever for development at the scale of a territory. It is with this vision that I proposed, in 2019, an integrated development project in the Tunisian desert around an oil site. This project included the deployment of solar energy, but also the development of agriculture around the site as well as a network and transportation infrastructure. This allowed me to demonstrate by example that renewable energies could be a driving force for the development of a territory.

Is this transition from one world to another possible for all professions in the oil sector?

KhK : Most skills can be converted from one sector to another. The oil industry is made up of a wide variety of professions, from design to operations, including finance and management, which also have applications in solar or wind power. This is the case for design engineers, legal or financial managers, electrical engineers and technicians, logisticians, etc. These profiles are common to all energy projects, whether for oil exploitation or offshore wind farms. Large energy groups that commit to renewables therefore do not need to recruit new talent based on this expertise, they already have these historical skills internally. It is also from oil that most of the cutting-edge technologies used in the energy sector as a whole come from, whether digital tools or high-performance materials. And this is what has allowed major oil groups like Total, ENI, or Shell to become energy companies in the broad sense in a decade.

What about professions specializing in drilling, which is very specific to the oil & gas sector? Will they have trouble finding their place in the energy transition?

KhK : Drilling remains an operation involving technicians, engineers, operators in different specialties which have their place in other energy projects. Only the profiles focused on the design of wells, their operation and the control of their integrity are less conducive to the transfer to renewables. But these positions are often very qualified jobs, held by technicians or engineers who have a good ability to be trained quickly and to adapt, in order to be able to develop their skills on renewable energy projects. More and more energy companies are setting up in-house training programs to give their employees multi-sectoral perspectives. But above all, it must be understood that oil will remain an energy resource between now and 2050. Skills related to drilling will therefore continue to be essential in the next 30 years.

Do you think oil still has a multi-decade future despite the pressures to accelerate the energy transition?

KhK : The challenge for the oil industry today is to find a balance between ecological imperatives and economic injunctions. The world cannot do without oil overnight. Many countries, especially in the South, have infrastructure that relies on it, and the cost of other energies is still too high to replace oil immediately. Even though the cost of solar energy has fallen by almost 80%, this energy is still intermittent, and we still do not have sustainable solutions for storage. It will therefore be necessary to continue to exploit the current oil and gas deposits, which will require specialized skills in this field. Beyond the replacement of fossil fuels, the energy transition also involves reducing the carbon footprint of the oil and gas sector.

How do you see the future of renewable energy?

KhK : Green energy projects must answer new questions about their design. Manufacturers are still in the discovery phase and all the problems are not solved. For example, we know very well how to drill oil wells in the desert, but we don’t know as much when it comes to setting up a field of solar panels or wind turbines there. At the design level, projects require new forms of optimization. And these are projects that have political implications in terms of governance, which must also be taken into account. Renewables are a driver of energy sovereignty for most countries that simply do not have sufficient fossil resources to be energy independent. This is why green energies are above all an opportunity that we will have to know how to seize in the years to come.

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Biography of Khaled Kaddour

Engineer in hydrocarbon production, Khaled Kaddour holds a Master’s degree in management of oil companies from HEC Montreal since 1988 and Doctor in prospective and strategy of organizations from Arts et Métiers de Paris since 2005. He has devoted part of his career in education, as an auditor with decision-makers of the European Union, in Milan, in Washington and at the ENA in Tunis until 2008.

In 2008, he was appointed CEO of SITEP (Italian-Tunisian Petroleum Exploitation Company), then Vice-President at ENI (Milan (2012), Dubai and Basra (2014)) and Advisor to the General Management (Algiers, 2016). In 2011, he began his political career and became Director General of Energy at the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy in Tunisia.

In September 2017, he was appointed Minister of Energy, Mines and Renewable Energies, in the government of national unity in Tunisia. Since then, he has offered his expertise to renowned companies and administrations as a Strategy and Energy Consultant.

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