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The heart of energy

The UK's future energy provision is a hot topic, and one that civil engineers should be at the heart of, according to speakers at Civils 2007.

Back in August, Constructing Excellence launched its survey about the future of energy generation. At the time of the launch, Andrew McNaughton, Balfour Beatty's group managing director and chairman of Constructing Excellence's Infrastructure Forum, raised the issue of the role that civil engineers should have in shaping the society of the future.

Richard Coakley, managing director, engineering, at consultant White Young Green, agrees that civil engineers should be involved in the political process for major infrastructure. "Civil engineers should be comfortable making these big decisions, together with politicians," he says. "They should be able to give politicians the right understanding of what's going on and what's capable of being constructed."

Coakley heads up White Young Green's energy division.

When it comes to the UK's future energy provision, Coakley's preferred option is a combination of a handful of large-scale generators (such as the proposed Severn Barrage, offshore wind farms, and maybe nuclear power stations) to provide a base level of electricity, backed up by local sources of heat and power.

"There's a lot to be said for new developments to have CHP [combined heat and power] built into them," he says, adding that we also need to look at how we use the energy we produce. According to Coakley, many computers use 12V power, which has to be transformed from the 240V supply – a process that wastes a lot of power. At the same time, a lot of renewable energy is generated as DC current at 12V.

"Why not deliver energy for specific uses?" he asks. "It would mean you wouldn't have transformation losses, and renewable sources – like photovoltaics – start to make sense."

"The government has asked for the views of engineers in the political debate," he continues. "Civil engineering is about putting things in place that are making things better – it's not about building massive structures."

Richard Coakley will be speaking at the session on "developments in the renewable energy agenda" at the Civils 2007 conference on Tuesday 20th November.

He will also be happy to talk to visitors to the White Young Green stand throughout the event.

You can still have your say in the energy debate by going to the Civils 2007 website and clicking on the link at the start of the first page. The results will be announced at a debate during the Civils event.

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