Faced with continued cuts in public funding for local authority highways and maintenance and the continued slowdown in investment across public and private infrastructure, where should civil engineers turn to build their careers?
The answer is surely clear – offshore wind power. The North Sea Oil boom for the 21st century. Having sowed the seeds of its ambition with the Rounds One and Two developments, Crown Estates is now well into its stride with Round Three. Delivering 48GW of offshore renewable power to the grid by 2020 is the goal.
And with plans to see around £150bn of private money invested over the next decade, bringing with it fantastic new technical challenges and a step change in approach to the delivery of at-scale renewable power, is there really any engineer in the UK not excited at the prospect?
Engineering innovation will be vital to overcome the not insignificant challenges; building around 10,000 turbines, each around 200m tall, in water up to 60m deep and up to 200km offshore, then get the power back to shore 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The challenge will be to design and construct robust, reliable machines designed specifically for this offshore environment, maximise the benefits of the programme’s scale and so reduce the current high price of harnessing this natural resource.
It is no secret that, right now, offshore wind tops the generating cost league, both in terms of capital and operating costs.
“Just like the North Sea Oil boom in the 1970s, civil engineers should recognise this as a game changing career opportunity”
Of course, some in the profession insist that the high price of offshore wind and its vulnerability to periods of calm mean this programme should be abandoned in favour of a massive push for nuclear.
I disagree. While nuclear certainly has a place in the energy mix alongside coal and gas, offshore wind cannot be ruled out as a vital renewable source.
Because while nuclear is perhaps cheaper, it isn’t the cheapest and it isn’t renewable. And we haven’t yet resolved issues around waste disposal and security of uranium supply. Certainly it is cheaper to burn gas or burn coal. But that is surely precisely why we now have such a big global climate change problem to deal with.
Despite the fact that, according to new government figures this week, UK CO² emissions fell in 2009, we still have a huge way to go if we are to meet our legally binding targets of delivering 15% of our energy from renewable sources by 2020 and reducing emissions by 80% by 2050.
Offshore wind gives us an opportunity to hit these targets and along the way develop new technologies and a whole new industry and supply chain based in the UK from which to launch around the world.
And just like the North Sea Oil boom in the 1970s, civil engineers should recognise this as a game changing career opportunity. Don’t miss the boat.
- Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor
- See feature on Crown Estate’s Round 3 offshore wind programme