Silt. That appears to be the main engineering reason why Tidal Lagoon Power’s aspiration to generate 8% of the UK’s energy need from an entirely renewable, sustainable source is doomed to fail. That’s according to NCE’s Letters pages this week.
Really? Is it really beyond the wit of modern engineers that we cannot combat a bit of suspended sediment in the waters around the Bristol Channel? I don’t know - maybe screens on the turbine intakes?
It’s certainly ironic timing, coming in the week that chancellor George Osborne used last week’s Budget to announce the start of negotiations for a strike price for the Swansea scheme. Political will seems to be behind the scheme even if the engineering will is lacking in some quarters.
I think it says much about our industry that we meet every new idea with scepticism and scorn. Those bold enough to stand up with new ideas are immediately knocked down by a wave of cynicism.
I would love to hope that it doesn’t have to be that way. We need bold solutions, and we need engineers to feel supported when they stand up and propose them.
We’ve also got a plethora of letters about High Speed 2 this week, spurred on by a recent challenge on the same pages to see some engineering judgement interjected into the high speed rail debate. All of them dislike the current plans; some propose alternatives.
But would anyone with a genuine bona fide alternative get the support of his or her peers today? The route of High Speed 1 was ultimately changed - unquestionably for the better - by a strong individual - Arup’s Mark Bostock - supported by his firm. I’m not sure we’d see that today.
I hope that is not the case. I hope we can embrace and support bold ideas. There are a couple of stories in NCE this week that I think show we can. The first is the development of plans to reopen the 3km long Rhondda tunnel in South Wales. Looking at the pictures of how it stands now, it’s unquestionably a bold engineering move. And I suspect the backers will need some support.
The second is the much bigger story about the unfolding tragedy in Vanuatu. It rams home the importance of the civil engineer in society. There is certainly no doubt about the need for bold thinking when it comes to vulnerable coastal communities.
As NCE Graduate of the Year and Engineers without Borders representative Sophie McPhillips puts it in NCE this week: “This is a reminder that people’s lives can be devastated by extreme weather and the effects of climate change,” she says. “The reports are there, but we need to take notice.”
There is a pressing need for resilient infrastructure around the world, she notes, and it needs to be appropriate for the communities using it. And engineers again have a critical role here. We need to be bold - to ensure what is built is right. We need engineers to stand up and be counted and push for those better, bolder solutions. And they need all our support.
Just like those pushing for tidal lagoons. Be vocal. Lend your support.
- Mark Hansford is NCE’s editor