What is energy engineering?

What is Energy Engineering?

 

Some of the most interesting and productive developments in engineering have taken place at the interfaces between conventional engineering disciplines, for example bio-engineering which crosses the boundaries between medicine and engineering.

 

Another good example is Energy Engineering. This is usually taken to mean the application of a mix of engineering disciplines , such as mechanical and electrical engineering, to solving the problems of extracting, collecting and utilising energy resources to satisfy human needs without destroying the environment.

 

Energy has been called the Ultimate Resource for two reasons: Firstly, without energy all the other resources on the planet are unobtainable. Secondly, unlike water or carbon, energy cannot itself be re-cycled. In the industrial countries we have come to depend heavily on large amounts of energy to support our way of life, and we usually expect that it will always be there at affordable prices.

 

However two major energy problems are looming. The first is depletion. About 90% of the world's energy comes from the fossil fuels(coal, oil and gas) which are finite. It seems likely that oil and gas will be virtually exhausted within one human lifetime from now. Coal could last much longer, perhaps several hundred years, but that brings us to the second major problem. As a result of burning carbon based fossil fuels we are forcing global climatic changes at an unprecedented rate. It is possible that we may have to leave most of the remaining fossil fuels in the ground.

 

The only alternatives to fossil fuels appear to be nuclear power and the renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Nuclear already supplies about 10% of world electricity but seems to have slowed down, with increasing concern about costs and environmental impact, in particular the question of how to deal with the growing accumulation of nuclear waste material . Renewables look promising and some are making rapid progress. For example, wind power is now the fastest growing energy technology in the world, with an annual growth rate of about 30%. However they still have a long way to go to match the contribution of the fossil fuels.

 

With the world population still growing and demand for energy still rising I believe we could be facing a real energy crisis. This is where energy engineering comes in.

 

Another growing area of employment for energy engineering graduates is in the environmental aspects of energy utilisation. The collection and utilisation of energy can have a huge environmental impact and both industrialists and environmental regulators have a growing need for professionals who understand and can deal with these problems.

 

An interesting new growth area for Energy and Environmental Engineering graduate students is in the emerging and rapidly expanding renewable energy industries in America. As mentioned before, wind power is leading the race to expand but some of the others, for example solar electricity from photovoltaics, are not far behind. We now have graduates working in wind, wave, hydro and solar energy. The challenges here are enormous but so are the potential rewards for graduates who have sufficient skills and flexibility to cross the disciplinary boundaries of these new energy technologies.

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