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Takeovers focus attention on big issues

Mark Hansford

Business stories continued to dominate the news last week, with four of the top five most read stories on NCE’s website all related to Aecom’s acquisition of URS or WSP’s purchase of Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB).

Which is understandable - after all a big chunk of you are directly employed by, or in some way work with - those big four firms. Aecom/URS and WSP/PB are going to be very large firms indeed, and how they behave corporately and socially will reflect on the entire industry.

So it is with genuine joy that we are able to report this week that Aecom’s European chief executive Steve Morriss is the latest industry leader to sign up to NCE’s Engineering Equality campaign.

As he tells us, it is Aecom’s responsibility as a major global player to be actively advocating an equal opportunities for all agenda. It indicates a bold stand against ignorance and prejudice - which is even more important when working globally.

So well done, Steve. You join Highways Agency and Thames Tideway Tunnel chiefs Graham Dalton and Andy Mitchell, and Atkins UK and Europe chief executive David Tonkin in a select club of industry leaders who have openly declared yourselves feminist through the pages of NCE. Is that the gauntlet thrown down to WSP - Arcadis even? I hope so.

Why? Because we’ve got some real engineering challenges ahead; challenges that I think need broader thinking to be applied to get to the right solution.

The Scottish referendum has dumped them all off the front pages, but they are there. And they are not going away.

Lack of runway capacity, lack of road capacity, lack of north-south railway capacity… they’re all growing problems that need addressing. And our solutions for all three are open to debate - as NCE’s Letters pages regularly attests.

These problems pale into insignificance compared to the real problem though. It’s a real screaming problem and it’s not being addressed. And that’s energy generation.

Frankly I am staggered that regulator Ofgem says the margin of spare capacity over peak demand could be as low as 5% this winter. Three years ago it was more than 15%.

Next winter it could be as low as 2% as European environmental legislation forces the closure of Britain’s ageing coal plants.

And what’s our solution? New nuclear? Great, if the EU doesn’t block the government’s deal with EdF. Which it might. And great, if we genuinely believe that to be the best we can come up with.

But it’s not is it? As we reported online this week, construction of the world’s largest floating solar farm starts this month in Japan. It is a simple but brilliant idea that turns a reservoir into a power station.

The photovoltaic installation is being developed by Japanese outfit Kyocera TCL Solar, using technology devised by French firm Ciel et Terre. That’s good thinking, broader thinking.

We can do that, and not just in solar, but in wind and tidal. But we need support and need to harass government to get it.

A group of renewable power trade bodies last week united to call on the government to set a target for 30% of energy to come from green sources by 2030. Their aim: to cut carbon emissions and tackle climate change, develop a real UK Plc export story; and reduce the UK’s reliance on fossil fuel imports from insecure parts of the world. Win/win/win.

Makes sense to me.

  • Mark Hansford is NCE’s editor

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