If you ask me

Our features this issue look at a proposal for the UK's future wind energy strategy and we download the armed forces latest recruitment drive.

Putting the UK at the heart of wind energy

After years of slow progress in bringing renewable energy into the mainstream, the last 12 months have seen governments and industry worldwide recognise that they must move into top gear if they are to meet carbon reduction targets. The UK wind energy industry is a prime example of how both technology innovation and market reform is needed for deployment of new energy sources.

At the British Wind Energy Association's annual conference, it was clear that wind power will be critical to the UK reaching its 2020 targets. And with the government announcing up to £1.4bn funding to support new onshore wind projects, it is clear that the political will exists.

However, the UK is not alone in its desire to develop a viable wind energy infrastructure and must compete against other markets to attract the investment of the handful of global wind energy developers able to deploy large-scale solutions.

Improving the UK's wind energy supply and planning environment will communicate that the UK is serious about wind energy. 

With over 10GW of potential wind energy blocked each year due to objections from radar operators, radar mitigation is a major R&D focus for the UK wind market. Limited land availability and abundance of airports, military bases and marine navigation stations have meant that UK engineers were first off the mark in designing mitigation technologies that help to remove wind farms from radar screens.

The UK has the potential to lead in technology solutions for offshore wind manufacture, development and maintenance. Given the finite amount of available land, many people believe that within a decade most of the UK's wind farm development will be offshore. The expertise to manage large offshore developments exists courtesy of Scotland's offshore oil and gas market, potentially making the UK a focus of investment for major utility providers and manufacturers.

As the UK attracts more offshore investment, we will see major R&D opportunities to overcome the challenges posed by erecting and maintaining 110m turbines 10-20 miles out at sea. Erosion-resistant materials, automated maintenance technologies and grid innovations will all be necessary to optimise power generation from offshore wind. The UK's defence, chemicals and energy sectors have the combined engineering expertise to develop the composites, sensors, and fuel lubricants necessary to solve these problems, and improve the cost and reliability of offshore wind energy.

Finally, the UK can differentiate itself from low-cost manufacturing countries by virtue of its reputation for continual product and process innovation.

As the government makes strides to overcome the UK's reputation for dragging its heels at the planning stages of wind farm development, manufacturers, equipment providers and technicians will begin to see the viability of establishing operations here. Attracting and securing a local wind energy supply chain would be a major coup for the UK as it positions itself as a critical technology innovator for the low carbon economy.

Mark Roberts is strategic business director for energy and environment at QinetiQ

www.qinetiq.com [new window]

Engineering expects…

I'm sure I wasn't the only person whose reaction to the news that the Royal Navy is trying to attract engineer officers using an 'interactive challenge' on Facebook and the iPhone was to wonder what Nelson would have made of it.

Britain's great seafaring hero was plunged straight into his naval career at the age of 12, and by the time most modern-day teens are thinking about what A levels they might study had enjoyed a series of adventures that would today be turned into a best-selling biography.

Enticing his 21st century counterparts into a life at sea takes a more subtle approach. Potential recruits who download the Royal Navy Engineer Office Challenge from the 'action' section of the iTunes games story, or grab a widget from Royal Navy Recruitment's Facebook page can get a taste of life on the ocean wave without even getting their feet wet.

Five missions are based on situations they would encounter during genuine training and are set on board the ailing HMS Deter. As lieutenant in charge, the player has to make decisions about fixing the engine, preparing for a missile attack and rewiring the radar system. They learn the impact of their decisions and can submit their score to a leaderboard. If inspired, they can jump to careers information on the Royal Navy website or join the Royal Navy Facebook group.

Taking advantage of the current popularity of social networking is a sound idea. But does it really give young engineers a true picture of what they'll face in a naval career?

I read about the Royal Navy initiative on the way to Dassault Systemes' recent European Customer Forum, the annual event in Paris where the French software company demonstrates developments in its product and process modelling tools.

The buzz this year was all about extending the reach of 3D simulation beyond high-end workstations. Like the Navy, Dassault has developed an application for the iPhone based on its 3DVIA technology that lets anyone download 3D images to their phone, not just to view, but to tweak and use in other contexts. Not only could a customer looking for furniture take a quick snap of their living room and superimpose different options onto it, but they could suggest to the manufacturer the sort of changes they'd like.

Dassault believes computer simulations could be rolled out beyond planning and development to be used in training and documentation. Companies are already saving lots of money, it says, by letting new recruits tackle problems in sophisticated virtual mock-ups of oil rigs and power stations before they get their hands on the real thing. With mobile devices a fact of life for future graduates, getting these scenarios onto something they carry around in their pocket, and moving from training to actually controlling operations in the real world.

It's easy to imagine how the attractiveness of saving money and minimising risks will encourage industry to look at ways of running their operations that are as different from the ones we're used to today as armed forces recruitment is to the way it was in Nelson's day.

Dominic Lenton, Managing Editor, E&T

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