Study Renewable Energy

Most world leaders today admit that climate change is the most pressing issue facing our planet today. Generation of power using fossils fuels has led to emission of gases that are now contributing to global warming.

Study Renewable Energy

As well as that, many of the conventional methods of energy generation rely on resources that are rapidly becoming depleted or too expensive to extract, such as oil, gas and coal. Nuclear energy generation has made a major impact to energy supply, and does not produce the gases that contribute to global warming, but power plants of this type are expensive to build and decommission, and storage of nuclear waste is a major environmental problem.

As politicians debate the future of our energy needs and provision, a gap in our energy needs is emerging. To solve these problems there is a new emphasis on clean and sustainable Renewable Energy, and there is a shortage of skilled scientists and engineers in this sector to meet future demands. There are ambitious investment plans and a political imperative to succeed in order to meet Kyoto Agreement targets. The Government in the White Paper ‘Our Energy Future: creating a low carbon economy’ sets out the long term aspirations to create a low carbon economy.

Climate change and pollution control are now complex issues that need to be addressed and a new generation of informed managers and technologists are required to meet the challenges. A critical requirement at this time, irrespective of the way forward, is a highly trained technical workforce that can contribute to R&D in this sector, and scientists and engineers who are informed and who can understand the wider picture.

Renewable EnergyThere is also an imperative to move towards efficient clean processes for security of supply beyond the life of fossil fuels. The country needs highly trained scientists and technologists who can respond to these challenges. Our belief is that graduates in this field should have a rigorous background in science and engineering, and that young people are now more aware of the need and the opportunity and wish to engage in this exciting new future.

Scotland has a particular interest in renewable energy and has a vast renewable energy resource, and is committed to developing and exploiting this with a view to meeting a 40% production target by the year 2020.

Renewable energy is really the generation of power in useful forms from natural sources such as the sun (solar energy), wind (air currents), water (hydro, waves, currents etc.), biological (biomass) and the earth itself (geothermal). This is an inexhaustible supply and technologies are evolving to make use of these processes for conversion to useable energy. The aim of these technologies is to provide sustainable energy production that is environmentally friendly.

In the UK the main continually available sources of renewables are off-shore and on-shore wind, and water for hydroelectric generation as well as technology development to exploit tidal streams and waves. The sun is a source of energy that can be converted to useful power by photovoltaic devices. As well as this, the sun can be used directly to heat water. Crops can be used to generate power. In this case, carbon is a by-product, but it is ‘carbon neutral’ in that it a re-cyclical process.

Hydroelectric power has been around for a long time and is one of the most widely used forms of renewable energy. It exploits the energy of flowing water from a reservoir to drive a turbine and generator. There is a fairly secure continual supply of water, and hydroelectric power accounts for 2- 3% of the UK's generating capacity.

Tidal energy exploits the rise and fall of coastal waters. This can be used to drive water turbines connected to generators and thus to produce electricity. Marine currents can also be used to generate power in sub-sea systems.

There is great deal of activity world wide in developing new energy sources and cleaner processes. Fuel Cells produce electricity and heat by combining hydrogen and oxygen. They are devices similar to batteries where the fuel and oxidant are stored externally, enabling them to continue operating as long as the chemicals are supplied. The oxygen can be taken directly from air, so only the fuel has to be stored. The ideal fuel for these cells is hydrogen. Hydrogen is likely to be the fuel of choice for the future, hence the phrase ‘the hydrogen economy.’

Solar cell devices work by converting solar energy directly into electricity as photovoltaic (PV) cells. They are now increasingly used to meet electricity requirements around the world, particularly in locations without access to a grid. PV cells can be made from crystalline silicon which have about 90% market share, and can be made in very thin films such as amorphous silicon. These have the potential to become a low cost option for the future. Groups around the world continue to attempt to make more stable cells of higher efficiency and to find cheaper manufacturing materials and methods.

Wind farms are continuing to dominate the news and the skyline of many areas. Interesting projects are underway in the UK and over 1000 MW of generating capacity. These systems offer interesting engineering and environmental issues that need to be resolved. New devices are also required to connect renewable resources to local and national grids and work of this kind is being done in Scotland.

Scotland has ambitions to become the ‘power house of Europe,’ based on its vast natural resources and commitment to renewable energy. Universities in Scotland have a great deal of expertise and research activity in renewable energy. Materials for the first thin film solar cells were developed here, fuel cell research is expanding, offshore projects are planned, new companies are being formed and there is massive investment. This makes Scotland an attractive option for students wishing to study Renewable Energy. The strong research base and teaching excellence combined with the Fresh Talent initiative is an exciting proposition and makes a strong case for studying Renewable Energy Degrees in Scotland. Scotland is ideally placed to make a contribution to training in this strategic area with its breadth of research expertise that covers the spectrum from solar energy, wind, environmental monitoring and modelling, geotechnical and ocean technologies, to power management, law and marketing and associated disciplines.

There is now a major opportunity for graduates to work in this area. Renewable Energy specialists with a firm engineering and scientific background can make a contribution to one of the most exciting and challenging fields, and also one of the most important for the future of the planet.

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