Ingenious Blog

As part of our Ingenious Engineering, Kids field project funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering the team have been hard at work developing blog posts to share ideas from the project with young people. In our first part of two below meet Bob Dean one of our volunteer engineers and find out about how he got into an incredible career in engineering. especially focusing on renewable sources for generating power. 

Engineering to Combat the Climate Crisis

I’ve worked as an engineer in many different countries and industries. For the last ten years I’ve been working on renewable energy projects in offshore wind and hydroelectric power. This is a great time to become an engineer, with lots of interesting and challenging work to be done to help combat the climate crisis.

Getting into engineering

When I was young, I loved drawing. At school I did A-levels in Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Technical Drawing. Doing a degree in engineering seemed a natural choice but I didn’t give a lot of thought to what sort of engineering I wanted to do. 

I started off working with a company that made electrical cables. I designed and tested special cable connectors that were used in coal mines and on oil platforms.  

From there I was lucky to get a job with a research company. I’ve been with them ever since. I’ve always been based in the UK but have travelled all over the world, to every continent except Antarctica. 

Over the years the work has changed, but it is always challenging and interesting. 

Renewable energy and the climate crisis

In recent years, my work has focused on renewable energy generation.   Using renewable energy to generate electricity reduces our emissions into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas which causes global warming

There are many types of renewable energy. There is a great smartphone app called GB Grid Carbon Intensity. I like it because it shows, in real time, how much of our electricity is coming from renewable sources (like wind, hydroelectric and solar) and how much is from non-renewable sources like coal, oil and gas. To limit global warming, we need to get the renewable energy up to 100% or as near to it as we can.   

As an engineer I’ve helped keep hydroelectric power stations and offshore wind farms operating. I’ve worked with other engineers to test high voltage electrical equipment used in renewable energy generation  to make sure it is in good condition. If something fails, we examine it to find out what caused the failure. We can then recommend what needs to be done so the same failure doesn’t occur again.

Engineering challenges with offshore wind

  Offshore windfarms are made up of lots of wind turbine generators connected by high voltage cables buried beneath the seabed. When offshore wind farms were first installed off the coast of the UK, there were major problems with the big export cables used to carry all the electricity from each windfarm back to the shore and on to the National Grid.       

Special cable laying ships are used to lay the new export cables on the seabed.  Often the export cables broke down and had to be replaced because they were being damaged while they were being installed. 

This picture is me on a cable laying ship visiting a wind farm in North Wales. 

We examined the export cables to find out what was causing them to fail. I then lead a project to identify new methods for monitoring the condition of the cables as they were being laid on the seabed.  

There are now a lot less failures of offshore wind farm export cables. As a result, our electricity is being generated more and more from offshore wind rather than from other, non-renewable, forms of generation. This reduces the emission of carbon into the atmosphere helping to limit global warming. 

The next instalment

In the second part of this blog I talk about hydroelectric power stations in Africa, Community Power Projects in the UK and why engineering is a good career choice for anyone who wants to combat climate change. Look out for the next blog post Friday 18th December 2020. 

Blog written by Bob Dean 

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