Faces of the Future: working in the energy sector
Posting date:10/15/2020 2:43 PM
The energy industry is vital to our decarbonisation efforts but are the obstacles we face as we move towards Net Zero a reason to choose a career in this sector, or are they just too much? Poppy Harrison, assistant mechanical engineer and Jack Foxcroft, project engineer, in Atkins’ Nuclear and Power business, explain why they want to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges, and share their views on the future.
Poppy: I think it’s hard to overestimate the importance of the energy industry. Its challenges, its impact and its opportunities are all around us. And, as our demand for energy increases, we need to work on solutions to manage this smartly and sustainably. It’s an interesting time to be working in an interesting industry.
Jack: Energy is one of our most fundamental requirements. It underpins our environmental, digital and business ecosystems. Where and how energy is extracted, transferred and utilised will determine the sort of world we live in.
The importance of technology in the nuclear sector
Poppy: Safety is crucial in the nuclear sector and is one of the key beneficiaries of the application of digital technologies. In helping us limit people’s exposure to hazardous environments, as well as providing greater clarity, understanding and accuracy – through tools such as digital twins – digital technologies can really have a significant impact on safety and risk mitigation.
Jack: Data is very important to the industry - the more data we have, the deeper our understanding of an asset or system will be (if the right questions are being asked of the data). Greater connectivity means we can ensure that data is available and that we can transfer, interpret and gain insight from it, as well as store and share it. That can unlock a range of benefits from better reporting and monitoring; to optimising operations; controlling processes automatically; empowering workers, customers, clients and stakeholders; boosting productivity; and improving maintenance or decommissioning.
Where to look for innovation
Poppy: Innovation is all around us. We are working with technologies, a sector and with clients that are all constantly evolving. And that’s hugely exciting. But it’s not always about what’s new – innovation can be about re-purposing, re-imagining, re-adapting, combining what’s possible with what’s proven.
Jack: I believe energy storage technologies could transform the industry, either as an assister or disrupter for nuclear energy. It’s very beneficial to have a bank of power available that can supply power to meet changing demand, without having to cycle on additional power generation units.
Advice for younger people who are interested in working in the wider energy sector
Poppy: A lot of younger people can see the energy sector in a negative light. They’re growing up in a climate emergency and are frequently told how dire the situation is. We should be working to help them understand how we’re solving problems and encourage them to see the industry as having a promising future, a future they could be part of. There are so many ways for younger people to get involved, through work experience, up to apprenticeships and degrees. There’s a space in the industry for anyone who’s interested.
Jack: I would say that anyone interested in working in the energy sector should read, read, read, and read some more. There’s so much information available now, on so many different platforms, and it’s brilliant to be able to wander and find you’ve gone down a rabbit hole of information about a variety of topics. But I would also urge caution - time can pass very quickly and before you know it, it’s 2am on a work night!
How we can encourage people to support Net Zero initiatives
Poppy: I think it’s about helping people feel empowered in their understanding and giving them confidence in the subject, so they understand what’s going on and are able to look at the news critically. Teaching is a really important part of this - making sure teachers have enough awareness of Net Zero so they can accurately inform their students, but it’s not the only answer. It’s important to be aware of how people are learning and where they’re getting their information from. If a lot of work goes into putting Net Zero initiatives into the public domain, is it being done in a way that reaches everyone, and in a meaningful way? If not, who’s being excluded?
Jack: If we’re going to achieve Net Zero, we need clear policies and guidance from government. More specifically, we need to know what the policies hope to achieve, how success will be measured, what results are expected by when, and what benefits this offers to people in the short, medium and longer term.
Who inspired them in their early careers
Poppy: I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by supportive people who have been happy to answer my many questions and encourage me in my career. They’re the people who inspire me, and I hope none of them underestimate how much I appreciate their support.
Jack: I’m inspired by people within the open source community such as Linus Torvalds, Tim Bernes-Lee and Richard Stallman. Global digital communities coming together to work collaboratively has given us the Linux kernel, which was used by 2.5 billion active Android devices in 2019 ; the world wide web, which 22 billion devices connected to last year; and GNU/Linux operating systems that power around 95% of the top 1,000,000 visited websites.