How Aberdeen, the oil capital of Europe, is adapting to a future with clean energy

As the world moves towards an eco-conscious future, change is already happening in a city where tens of thousands of jobs rely on the oil and gas industry, ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger reports

Almost 150 miles north east of Glasgow lies a city whose wealth depends on gas and oil - the very stuff the COP26 climate conference must persuade the world to leave behind.

Aberdeen has made the most of the boomtown years it has experienced since North Sea oil was first discovered not far from its shores in the 1960s.

But even here, there’s a widespread acceptance that the fossil fuel days are numbered.

That doesn’t mean Scotland’s Granite City plans to relinquish its title as the energy capital of Europe.

It is turning towards renewable energy, with turbines lining its shores and vast new floating wind farms sitting 15km out to sea in deeper waters.

Capable of powering more than 50,000 households, the Kincardine wind farm is one of the world’s largest and will be serviced by a vast new harbour being built just south of the city.

Harbour boss Bob Sanguinetti is optimistic the city can adapt, telling ITV News: “Aberdeen and the area around it has become a centre of excellence for offshore engineering and offshore work more generally and a lot of the skills that have been developed and finessed over the last 50 years are transferable to the renewable sector.”

But on the other side of the city, there is a steady stream of helicopters ferrying oil workers to and from the rigs.

40,000 jobs here still rely on the oil and gas industry.

At 19, trainee engineer Hamish Lloyd is just back onshore after only his second shift. He doesn’t know if his future lies in oil but is confident the skills he’s learning will mean he’s always employable.

“I feel if you work offshore you can really go anywhere,” he says.

“If you were looking for work, most companies are doing renewables and I’m confident about my future.”

Hamish Lloyd believes he'll be able to work in renewables in the future. Credit: ITV News

But his older workmates aren’t nearly as optimistic. William Lindsay has recently moved into a job in clean energy and says the pay will never be comparable.

“Oil and gas pay very well,” he smiles.

“If you move with similar skills, the going rate is 30% less in offshore energy and that’s probably right to make it economically profitable.”

The hope here is that the British government has learned from the 1980s when the decline of coal left many northern mining communities in tatters.

But without more targeted support to help workers transition into clean energy, Dr Daria Shapovalova from Aberdeen University’s Centre for Energy Law, worries some will be left behind.

“There is no clear understanding of what training is desirable,” she told ITV News.

“Currently our offshore workers are thousands of pounds out of pocket paying for training that they might not need. And salaries in renewables aren’t going to be the sort of salaries oil and gas will provide.”

The stormy waters here are a reminder that trying to balance preserving both people’s livelihoods and the planet, while keeping the lights on across the UK, is a task as unforgiving as the North Sea itself.