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Meet David Cole

Posted by Attrax Admin
Posting date:6/9/2021 1:56 PM
As part of our #PeopleDriveResults campaign, this week we have caught up with David Cole, market director for power for the Europe, Middle East Africa (EMEA) division of the nuclear and power business.

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do

My name is Dave Cole and I am the market director for power for the Europe, Middle East Africa (EMEA) division of the nuclear and power business. Our work includes operational nuclear power stations, conventional power stations, electrical networks and energy storage—growing carbon capture and storage and hydrogen markets. Our portfolio also includes activities in the nuclear defense sector on steam raising plants and submarines.

I have also worked on developing our Engineering Net Zero initiative over the last five years and sponsor our digital strategy in the nuclear and power sector. I’ve been designated the SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins Fellow for Net Zero and Energy, which gives me the opportunity to educate colleagues through webinars and other ventures.

What inspired you to take an active interest in energy?

It probably first started with my PhD, using neural networks as well as other modelling techniques to design new alloys for very high temperature and long-term operation in power turbines to improve efficiency. After that, I was lucky enough to work in multiple industries all over the world including defense and aerospace, oil and gas, chemical refineries, conventional generation, nuclear generation and decommissioning, building my understanding of energy systems and how they work.

Energy is an incredibly interesting subject. It underpins almost all of society and what we do, but is completely taken for granted, particularly electricity and fuel for transport and heating. It’s part of an incredibly complex system that links our homes, industry, transport and infrastructure (such as hospitals, schools, etc.) in general and allows it all to function. I believe it’s our job as engineers to communicate facts, not fiction, about the energy system we rely on for so much. We need to emphasize the reality that the transition we need to go through is comprehensive, vary large and will affect everyone. The competitions in schools we are currently running (led by Sarah Long Time to step up! - Engineering Net Zero) is a fantastic example of this.

Just a note on energy—it’s worth thinking about what we mean by this word. In his 1963 lecture on physics, Richard Feynman said “It is important to realize that in physics today, we have no knowledge of what energy is.” While, we have formulae for calculating numerical quantity, we don’t have a picture for energy as a thing of definite amounts. What I take from this is energy is not a single, easy-to-define thing, but a collective of, for example, electrical, electromagnetic, chemical, thermal, kinetic, nuclear and gravitational.

What kind of energy projects have you been involved in professionally?

I’ve been involved in quite a few different ones, such as designing aero engines, life-extending steam and gas turbines, failure investigations (for turbines think of a jigsaw with lots of bits of metal), ammonia and nickel refinery outages (use huge amounts of energy), structural integrity of nuclear reactor boilers and working on advanced gas reactors generally, technical due diligence of power station fleets and so on.

I’ve been very lucky in my career to have these opportunities, and even more importantly, be part of a business that supports all aspects of today’s energy system and our future one. I also get to work with many different clients across the energy industry.

What do you think the biggest change to the energy sector will be in our lifetime?

Where to start? If you want net zero or a very low-carbon society, the first goal should be to electrify absolutely everything you can using zero carbon power sources for, such as nuclear and renewables. This means that with increasing amounts of intermittent resources, we need to build a much bigger system than we have today with many more wires. We need to look at energy storage at a scale unimagined for which the technology does not yet exist. We need to build nuclear at pace and as a fleet approach. We need to develop carbon capture and storage at scale and make it commercially viable. We need to get our heads around hydrogen and what role it will play for us and at what efficiency we will be happy. We need to work out how demand will change over time with how we heat and cool our homes, move around and make things like food and steel, and so on.

I could go on and often do, but I think perhaps the biggest change I would hope for is how we hold this debate and make our decisions on the energy system we should have. Far too much is decided of technologies in isolation, single-issue lobbying and emotion over fact. We need to be completely focused on:

  • Scale and pace of the build required
  • Total system cost (build and operation)
  • Whole life cycle—embedded energy, raw materials, recycling, waste and decommissioning
  • Build with technologies that exist today, and desist from basing today’s actions on things that don’t exist yet based on prices that have been made up
  • Acknowledge that some countries have seasonal variations
  • The energy trilemma—sustainability, cost and security

This is why we advocate for a plan to net zero based on practical, scientific and engineering knowledge, with a delivery body such as an Energy System Architect to get us there. You can see much more of this on our Engineering Net Zero website, as well as on LinkedIn.

Everyone has their favourite form of energy production, what’s yours?

Nope. See above. My favourite form of electricity production is from a reliable system that makes sense for the region it’s servicing, that utilizes global and local natural resources effectively, considers whole life cycle carbon (or equivalent) and has waste management built in.

Just for fun… You get to design your own spaceship. What fuel source do you use?

A huge rubber band in a gigantic trebuchet would be my fuel source. That would be cool.

Clearly I am no expert, but this must be hard to decarbonize with respect to leaving a planet’s gravitational field. There are several current options for this rocket propellant solid fuels, liquid fuels etc.

As an example, Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon Heavy will burn 400 tons of kerosene getting to orbit emitting the same CO2 as a car would over two centuries, as well as other nasties such as black carbon. Kerosene is a tremendously hard fuel to replace. It has a very high-energy density and is cheap. Once you are in space, I think the options are open to you, like nuclear propulsion for example. Meanwhile I’ll be looking at how big the rubber band needs to be and the size of the trebuchet. I suspect it would collapse under its own weight.

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