October 23, 2015, by Laura Estrop
Spotlight On: Energy
By Rajesh Ramesh, MSc Electrical Engineering for Sustainable and Renewable Energy
On Tuesday 6 October we held our first Spotlight On… Energy event designed to inspire and give students an insight into careers in the energy sector. But don’t just take my word for it. Hear about Rajesh’s thoughts about the event.
As a renewable energy researcher and engineer, the factoid ‘1.2 billion people around the world exist without basic access to electricity (and/or modern energy)’, is something that I couldn’t miss during my research. So the questions that hit me were:
- How could I be a part of the solution?
- How do I prepare myself with the right skills to begin my career in the energy sector?
- What are the current challenges within the energy sector?
To my surprise, I found many students like myself searching for the answers to similar questions. This event gave us the opportunity to interact and listen to industrial experts and researchers who have had years of experience in making energy more accessible, sustainable and affordable to the public. A coffee and snack session before the start of the talks yielded some surprising networking opportunities with the guests.
An introduction to hydrogen energy
We all know, thanks to Hollywood, that the Terminator Machines ran solely on hydrogen-based fuel cells and this power was the subject of the talk by Professor Bruno Pollet, Head of Research and Development at Coldharbour Marine. His talk kindled our understanding of the technology by detailing the physical and chemical properties of hydrogen. Including the processes leading to its synthesis and how fuel cells have better energy density than most sources of energy supply today. By the end of his presentation, the chemical and materials sciences engineers were at the edge of their seats thanks to Dr. Bruno’s talent at breaking down complex concepts into simple, easy-to-understand slides. The talk also made me realise that energy storage was an inter-disciplinary challenge.
Science and engineering in an energy utility
Mr Gary Hewitt, Head of Power Plant Technologies (Ratcliffe) Limited, E.ON Energy delivered a thought-provoking talk on energy utilities and the fascinating, rewarding and exciting the careers within them. He emphasised how your career can evolve and that there are interesting roles for every field of science and engineering.
As a materials specialist and a senior leader in the organisation, Mr Hewitt spoke in detail about combined heat and power systems (CHPS). This provides a novel way of uniting the way homes get both electricity and heat from the same source, which was of great interest to students alongside developments in distributed generation and renewable energy. E.ON was in the news recently with their announcement to diversify into two companies, E.ON and Uniper, the latter is the division that will continue to run the conventional power generation, energy trading, and exploration and production (E&P) domains. Mr Hewitt referred to the public’s role in distributed energy generation by saying:
“We are no longer consumers but prosumers (producers and consumers) of energy.”
Energy outlook to 2035
The next presentation was from none other than Mr Michael Bailey, the Acetyls Senior Chemical Engineer from British Petroleum (BP), who is also an alumnus of the University. In his talk, he emphasised how engineers and scientists need to understand the energy evolution that is happening around us not just in terms of technology, but also the economics that is driving it.
Mr Bailey detailed how the changing energy landscape is giving space for new opportunities to emerge and for old technology to evolve. Some of the facts I took from the talk included:
- the continued presence of fossil fuels as the key sources of energy for the next few decades
- the emergence of renewable energy technology as a possible fossil fuel conservation and replacement measure
- most interestingly, the fact that the BP website provides access to valuable and up-to-date data on energy, fuel supply, costs etc. Thank you BP, you just made our assignments and reports much more engaging and interesting to work on!
Finally, Mr Richard Coackley, Director of Energy Development at AECOM, spoke to us about the company’s commitment to playing a key role in the energy scenario not just in the UK but around the world. He gave a complete picture to how the UK gets its energy and AECOM’s vision to design, build, finance and operate infrastructure around the world.
With recent developments in the energy sector and the rise of renewable and clean energy, AECOM’s desire to bring in engineers across all disciplines gained a positive response. Mr Coackley backed AECOM’s track record in the energy sector with examples of how some of the largest low and medium height hydropower stations were designed and constructed by the company in the UK and abroad.
What did I learn?
As an electrical engineer, I left the talks with a lot to think about. It made me realise that university students need to develop a diversified skill set to match the career requirements of the companies they aspire to work for. You shouldn’t be just an engineer, an economist, a designer, or a programmer, but all of them in the right mix.
Walking out of the hall, I remembered my earlier questions; I am determined that one day, I will be part of the energy revolution and a proud feather in the cap of the University bringing heat, electricity and smiles to the 1.2 billion people without it.
If you would like to find out more about careers in the energy sector, visit our website. Don’t forget that our Spotlight On… series runs throughout the autumn term and covers a wide range of sectors, what will you discover?
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