Why the wind energy sector needs PhDs

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By Dr Ali Mehmanparast
REMS CDT Manager

The rapid growth of the wind energy sector relies on engineering know-how as much as it does on planning and regulatory changes. But the growth of the industry could be stunted if the sector doesn’t get enough doctoral-level graduates able to deliver the innovations needed. Thankfully, the UK is ahead of the curve – with training in place to help ensure we can meet the challenges of the future.

Gone are the days that a PhD student spent their days working on entirely theoretical and mathematical models with little thought to real world application. The best contemporary PhD projects are likely already engaged with industry problems. Cranfield and Oxford universities are working together on the Renewable Energy Marine Structures Centre for Doctoral Training (REMS CDT) – and students are researching some of the major issues facing the offshore wind sector – from how to better manufacture and deploy the next generation of offshore wind turbines, to the ongoing maintenance and inspection of our wind energy infrastructure.

One of the central aspects of all doctoral level research is that it needs to make an original and significant contribution to ‘knowledge’ in the area. For EngD (Engineering doctorate) students working with the energy sector, this means a contribution to furthering the industry. The industry can obviously benefit from four years of in-depth research as my students are doing. Doctoral students at Cranfield and Oxford are already making real progress on projects that could improve risk assessment, the design of offshore foundations, structural health monitoring, and much more. Their findings are rigorously tested, and have the potential to make the UK’s offshore wind sector more effective in terms of both engineering and cost.

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One of the reasons specific skills are required for the offshore wind sector is that while the large structures are in the main fabricated of welded steel tubular and plate sections not dissimilar to structural details commonly encountered in the ship and offshore Oil & Gas sectors, the design requirements differ significantly. This is due to environmental aspects and well as loading regime and low CAPEX and OPEX requirements. There is national and industry-wide recognition that the offshore wind sector needs the investment in these skilled engineers of the future. The REMS CDT is government funded through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and includes partnership with major industry players including Arup, Atkins, Centrica, DnV.GL, Dong, E.ON, EDF, Fugro, GE, Mojo Maritime, Qinetiq, RES, RWE, Skanska, TWI and Tata Steel.

A student registering for an EngD spends four years attending a structured programme of taught modules and will complete a PhD-level thesis or portfolio of work. The industry-based students (who spend the majority of their studies working in their host company) could be existing staff or the EngD could form part of a graduate training programme for new recruits with a view to them becoming leading specialists in the area of Renewable Energy Marine Structures by the time they graduate.  This closeness to industry means that students are a real benefit to companies, and the wind energy sector doesn’t have to wait until research findings are published to put them into practice.

By the end of their studies, today’s doctoral students have also had the opportunity to gain wider skills which complement their specific expertise. The REMS CDT programme, for example, offers advanced technical skill straining as well as encouraging leadership and collaborative work with industry through group projects. This means that a doctorate is more than just a contribution to knowledge – it is recognition that an individual is industry ready, that they are able to develop robust new ideas rapidly and see them through to deployment.

In short – EngDs can offer the competitive edge.


The Industry Contribution is a new section in which the offshore wind industry companies share their project endeavors or analyses. Please contact us at af@navingo.com for inquiries.

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