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An unprecedented pandemic; a difficult economic outlook; global uncertainty — these overwhelming challenges call for innovation and insight. They also call for conversation, discussion and debate — for gaining personal perspectives from people on the frontlines.
LINK magazine reached out to eight past recipients of SAIT’s Alumni Awards, asking their advice on meeting the future, head-on. This story is one of seven in the series Into the Wind.
Gursh Bal (left) and Kai Fahrion (right) knew that, when they graduated from SAIT’s Electrician Apprenticeship program, they wanted to work for a business that used natural resources in a responsible way. So after they finished their studies, they created their own renewable energy company.
In April 2015, Fahrion (AELP ’15) and Bal (PELP ’12, AELP ’15) co-founded Virtuoso Energy, now a leading business in Calgary’s renewable energy sector that specializes in the design, procurement and construction of solar panels, LED upgrades and electric vehicle charging stations.
Here, the 2019 Outstanding Young Alumni recipients provide an overview of some of the challenges and opportunities they’ve identified within their burgeoning sector.
The short answer: The volatility of oil prices.
The details: Back then, Fahrion and Bal say, they encountered a “why bother” mindset among Albertans when it came to renewable energy.
“Everyone was so comfortable with the lifestyle the energy industry brought,” says Fahrion. “People weren’t willing to adapt to using renewables, because they were so used to the boom-and-bust cycles that Alberta goes through. It’s hard to bring something new into your life when you’re comfortable with how things are.”
The short answer: Misconceptions and misunderstandings.
The details: Bal and Fahrion say a big challenge right now is the misconception that renewable energy will completely replace fossil fuels, thus replacing all oil and gas jobs.
“I see some fear that oil and gas jobs are threatened by renewable energy. But renewables are designed to work in conjunction with pre-existing energy,” says Bal. “Solar panels won’t work under two feet of snow right now — but natural gas works in that situation. That’s where there’s that balance between the two energy sources working together.”
Fahrion adds that engaging in conversation with those who voice fears or misunderstandings of the renewable energy sector — particularly over professional platforms like LinkedIn — can help mitigate that confusion.
The short answer: Increasing workflow efficiency and increasing hireability.
The details: Bal says digital skills — like using project management software to manage new clients — are integral to efficient daily operations in a renewable energy business. And, he says, having these base skills will help professionals quickly adapt as new technologies emerge within the industry.
“Learning digital skills is important because the renewable energy industry is only just getting its legs. We don’t know its full potential yet or where that technology will go,” says Bal. “I see SAIT’s new School for Advanced Digital Technology as teaching a base set of skills that are required for the future in our industry — otherwise you won’t have a position.”