How would you solve the energy crisis?

You are a young engineer representing your company at an international conference on the future of power generation - please outline the issues facing the industry. Well, what would you say?

Tom Astley, mechanical engineering student at the University of Warwick, said this (and it won him £3,000 and the title of Engineering Undergraduate of the Year): “More research needs to be put into nuclear reactors to provide a larger proportion of our energy for the next 100 years, possibly including the use of thorium and feeder reactors.

“Domestically as individuals we will need to change our lifestyles by reducing consumerism and making changes such as growing more of our own food, using locally sourced and seasonal produce (to reduce food miles) and taking into account the energy we use everyday.

“Power generation companies should be putting plenty of effort (money) into renewable energies. Although it is impossible for renewables to meet our current and increasing energy demand the proportion of energy from them must and will increase. Wind, wave and biofuel technologies are vital.”

His reply, part of an online test set by the IET, won him the prize at the TARGETjobs National Graduate Recruitment Awards earlier this year. (He was also quizzed in a telephone interview by npower, which assessed his communications skills.)

His reply summed up the arguments of many of the other finalists, who wrote about issues including home energy efficiency and micro power generation (Laura Brook, studying chemical engineering at the University of Birmingham), how energy retailers need to manage their customers' consumption more efficiently (Neil Moneypenny, electrical engineering, Queen’s University Belfast), why methanol or hydrogen could be viable alternatives (Claire Thompson, chemical and process engineering, University of Strathclyde), the need to refurbish the UK's ageing power network (Jan Valentin Muenzel, electromechanical engineering, University of Southampton); the high-risk Fisher-Tropsch process (Claire Lucas, chemical engineering, University of Cambridge); the importance of nurturing nuclear fusion (Stephen Way, mechanical engineering, University of Bristol); addressing public concern over nuclear (Graham Hinchly, mechanical engineering, University of Bristol); managing population growth and energy demand (Matthew Browning, chemical engineering, University of Cambridge) and more investment in wind power energy (Mahsa Zargary, chemical engineering, University of Sheffield).

The competition for Engineering Undergraduate of the Year runs again in 2010: have a go at some of this year's technical questions to see how you'd have done this year. And if you feel you could have said it better than the finalists did, check the Target jobs website for details of next year's competition.

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