Blog 31 May 2023
Jean Lewis is one of Scotland’s foremost experts in grid connection and electrical engineering in the offshore wind sector. Jean joined TWP to lead the Energy Export Capacity Team for our two offshore wind farms (floating and fixed-foundation) off the coasts of Orkney (Ayre) and Aberdeenshire (Bowdun). These two projects will have a combined capacity of 2GW (enough power for an estimated 2.4 million households).
Jean will be at the TWP stand at the upcoming Feein Market in Stonehaven this weekend (Saturday 3rd June) with a number of TWP colleagues. This is a great opportunity to ask questions about the science behind offshore wind farms, careers in engineering, as well as the electrical infrastructure needed for our projects.
When the UK renewables industry was first kicking off, I was working on a contract for the London Underground designing and commissioning low-voltage power systems and switchgear. It was the early 2000’s and the work I was doing felt quite traditional. At the same time, there was a growing buzz about renewables, a challenger sector in every sense – pushing technology and science to its limits and defying the fossil fuel orthodoxy.
I went back to the University of Strathclyde and took a Masters in Renewable Energy Systems. It was a tough decision to go back into education but is one I have never regretted as it opened up an incredibly varied, fast-track career.
My first role after graduating was at Mott McDonald, where I was lucky enough to find an amazing mentor, another female electrical engineer (there were not many!), and a team of real brainiacs who helped me get into the very detailed engineering on North Sea offshore platforms, and then on systems all over the world. That’s the bit I enjoyed the most – getting out and about, not just stuck behind a desk – and so I decided to move away from detailed design and more towards project management.
That’s a choice you need to make in engineering, and it depends on your personality type, life circumstances (in terms of travel and being away from home a lot), and how you prefer to work (quietly or with lots of interaction). It is not often appreciated but engineering is a subject that gives you very broad choices.
Career progression beyond engineering
At SSEN, I had the opportunity to work on HVDC (High Voltage Direct Current) transmission systems, including one of the first HVDC Multi-terminal VSC (Voltage Source Converter) systems in the world. If you are not familiar with this, it is like an offshore substation using HVDC; however, you can have multiple connections in and out. At that time, the system I was working on was at the cutting edge.
I was in a small, niche team, but one that was European-funded, so we had a mission to share the knowledge and learnings we gained on the project with the wider European energy community. It was exciting to know that each small learning fed into the bigger, global mission to progress the state of the technology, so we could get renewables online faster.
After that, I moved into AC transmission system projects, where I managed two Scottish regions: at any one time, my team could have 20-30 major projects on the go. Many of them would involve talking to the Scottish Government and people in local communities. You really do need to be able to explain the benefits and answer concerns people have when you’re laying cables in their local area. I would deal with the technical teams and contractors one day, then be calling in people’s houses for cups of tea the next.
I’ve also had the chance to work for smaller consultancies, taking on senior managerial roles and managing customer accounts, which brought in a whole new set of skills. And, now, I am starting everything from scratch at TWP as we take two offshore wind farms from the drawing board to reality over the next ten years!
Challenges in Offshore Wind
A core challenge in developing a power network for an offshore wind farm is ensuring that the ambitions you have at the design stage will work in reality when you start construction. It sounds obvious, but the teams at the two ends of the process work in quite different ways.
Construction companies generally work in a standardised way – and that is because they are dealing with enormous sums of money and need to keep costs under control. Designers, on the other hand, want to change things and bring in new innovations and exciting technologies of the future. They also need to be flexible, leaving room for change in the designs and incorporating feedback from communities and stakeholders.
TWP's projects will enter construction in 2029, so you can imagine the advances in technology that will happen between now and then. The construction will also need to be highly sensitive to habitats both on and offshore. That’s why we do need to have years of site surveying (bird, mammal, goephysical, metocean, benthic, among others) and bring consultancies in now.
We also need skilled workforces ready to start work for us in the coming years. This is why we are so interested in encouraging young people to embark on renewables engineering degrees in Scotland. The future pipeline of exciting and valuable work is there and it will be guaranteed for many decades to come, not just on developing the wind farms, but also on operating and maintaining them beyond that.
Interested in learning more?
You can find more information about routes into electrical engineering at:
Careers at TWP
We have a number of roles available for qualified engineers at TWP, including a Substation Engineer. You can find our more on our Careers page.
Blog 20 Sep, 2023
Press release 20 Sep, 2023
Press release 11 Sep, 2023
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