This week, we talk to chartered engineer Emily Spearman from the Energy Institute. She talks about the challenge of making renewables competitive so that they can succeed.
Because we are at the cutting edge of forefront technology, we don’t have the established infrastructure for offshore wind farms as with oil and gas. We are learning as we go and feeding that back to enhance the design.’
Emily Spearman is a Chartered Engineer with the Energy Institute, working in offshore wind company DONG Energy. Her key challenge is how to make renewables competitive.
‘I identify the big cost elements and how we can reduce them. I pass that on to the relevant professionals so we can design it out, whether it be issues with the blades or how partnerships are set up.’
Emily explained the technical difficulties in working on the sea bed, which is constantly moving. ‘As with all sectors working offshore, there can be a danger with anchor drag and fishermen with trawling vessels. In offshore wind we need to make sure the cables are buried to the right depth and understand the dynamics of the area to ensure they are adequately protected.’
Another challenge is attracting staff. ‘Salaries in the oil and gas sector are significantly higher than renewables. It’s about finding people who have the passion. In addition, there just aren’t the engineers coming through universities to meet the future forecasted demand.’
Regulatory changes also have a massive impact. ‘As the subsidies come down, which they quite rightly should, the sector has to become self-sufficient and sustainable. We must make sure, in the long term, we can operate without these subsidies, so that there is security for the industry and guaranteed jobs.’
‘We must move towards renewables. It’s vital for the survival of the planet. But with falling oil and gas prices we are in a race to develop the technology and infrastructure, to reduce costs and be competitive.’
Professor Andy Friedman, CEO of PARN
First appeared in Newsweek, edn. 27 March 2015