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Jowitt: now is the time for an engineering renaissance

Experts agree the need to drive industry innovation and investment.

“Now is the time to innovate for the future”. This was the message engineers, economists, scientists and Government representatives discussed at the ICE’s recent Innovate to Survive: Engineers for a ‘One Planet’ Future conference.

Engineers have a crucial role in the global battle against climate change, the meeting heard. Without transforming energy, transport, water and waste systems to align them with global goals to lower emissions it will be virtually impossible to achieve a low carbon economy.

Innovation

This requires engineers in the UK and worldwide to innovate their practices, making fundamental changes to the way they plan, design and build infrastructure to provide a sustainable future for communities. It also requires ongoing investment in research and development to source new solutions to old problems, the conference was told.

Speaking at the conference, ICE president Paul Jowitt reiterated the call made in his inauguration speech for an engineering renaissance. He said the conference was just one way the ICE was engaging with industry and the wider community, including research councils, charities, academics and Government departments, on some of the issues facing society.

“We all have a role to play in tackling climate change - from climatologists to politicians and the general public - but the engineers’ role is somewhat more critical; we must provide the practical solutions,” he said.
“The global engineering community must wake-up to this massive responsibility. It isn’t good enough to start thinking about it tomorrow or next week, we need to change the way we think, design and build today.”

David Nussbaum, chief executive of conservation body WWF, a principal supporter
of the conference, noted that engineers are rarely given full credit for the role they play in shaping society. “Their work shapes our communities, the way we travel and how our natural resources are extracted and managed.

“In an increasingly resource constrained world and in light of the real and present threat of climate change, we want to encourage engineers to innovate and work beyond their technical remit. They must have social, environmental and economic considerations at the front of mind if we are to move towards a truly sustainable future.”

“We all have roles to play, but the engineer’s role is critical: we must provide the practical solutions”

President Paul Jowitt, ICE

He said there were two key questions for the audience to consider: ‘Is the project on the journey to a ‘One Planet’ future?’ and ‘Beyond new infrastructure, what else needs to be done?’

The two-day conference examined many areas where innovation will be crucial. These included decarbonisation of the energy sector, economics of climate change, the future of transport infrastructure and how engineers can affect behaviour and attitudes to climate change.

Challenges

“Offshore renewables is the cornerstone of getting to the 2020 emission targets but there are challenges around operating integrity and cost,” said Atkins group managing director for energy Martin Grant.

“The right quality of engineering can surmount these challenges. We feel, to be truly successful, the industry needs to drive down capital cost and improve delivery through a mix of high quality pragmatic engineering allied with a sensible degree of innovation.”

In another session, views on whether enough energy can be extracted from waste were raised. Costain technical director Bill Hewlett spoke about the importance of his company’s waste recovery work. “We are currently working with Viridor Laing for Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority, to provide a revolutionary integrated solution for the 1.2M.t of waste that the authority handles.

In addition, on the River Thames, we are constructing the UK’s largest energy from waste facility - the Riverside Resource Recovery Facility. The facility is designed to handle 600,000t/year of London’s waste and generate 72MW of electricity, with over 90% exported to the grid and helping to power homes and businesses.”

Jowitt said the key to success was engaging a wide range of industries and stakeholders. “Engineers do not and cannot work in isolation. This conference exemplifies this approach, involving many contributors from areas outside engineering with whom we need to collaborate to address the emergent problems at the systems level.

We must face these challenges with all the innovative skills at our command. 

“We cannot predict the future, but we can enable it through our ingenuity and collaboration,” he said.

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