This is Engineering Day celebrates the work of engineers globally and as part this, I was invited to share my enthusiasm for engineering and explain how we make a difference to everyday life. And of course, how we change the world.
As an engineer you might not feel that your effect is all that grand in scale, but the important thing is that you keep making small improvements, over time they build up and make way for step changes in technology that revolutionise the world. That has been the case since The Industrial Revolution, and that is why there has been more technological progress in the past two centuries than there has in the rest of human history! Enquiring engineers find practical applications for scientific discoveries.
How the world has changed since The Industrial Revolution? In a word, completely.
In the 1900s, radio communication across the Atlantic was cutting edge, now video calls with your friend on the other side of the planet are trivial. In the 1960s we put a man on the moon with a fraction of the computational power that is currently sitting in your pocket. And those NASA computers were so big, they needed their own buildings. At home, your energy probably comes from about a 100 miles away, a vast electrical grid connects you to a wind farm, or huge jet engines driving generators, or maybe a small steel and concrete bottle capturing the immense nuclear energy coming from uranium rods that have been reacting for six months, uninterrupted. This electrical grid may feel like it has been around forever, but it has only been around connecting the entire country into one enormous energy machine for around 100 years.
We are in the new age of technology. From the way we contact friends and relatives, to the way we travel, technology is changing everything. Engineers create incredible devices, software and systems that make the impossible possible. Whatever you’re in to, you can be part of how technology shapes the future.
In the 20th century most innovation came from economic opportunities, surviving world wars, or competition for global technological dominance. In the 21st century, the challenges facing engineers will be even bigger, and the ideas to beat them will be even more transformative. Engineers will play a crucial role in delivering solutions to the climate challenge, whether through decarbonisation and advancements in energy, transport systems and heating, or improvements in efficiency and demand management.
Such huge technological shifts will need significant changes to our energy infrastructure. That is why my time as a graduate engineer at Centrica has been so exciting. In my first year I was involved in several flexible generation projects, building assets designed to enable further renewable generation capacity with rapid start power, counter-balancing renewable intermittency. In my second year I learnt how to design Combined Heat and Power (CHP) generators, allowing clients to use their heating gas to get some electrical power as well, rather than losing energy. In my final year I can see the enthusiasm for how Centrica will enable customers to transition to a lower carbon future, through expanding our energy services to new technologies, designing and building energy storage solutions, EV charging stations, Local energy markets, and possibly even hydrogen storage for a future energy network.
In my day-to-day role, I’ve focused on being thorough, precise, and making the small improvements that engineers can, so that when we need to make step changes to our technologies or practices, we are ready to deliver for the customer and be the difference in their lives.
We are working towards a future where energy is highly assessible, inexpensive and plentiful. If this has sparked an interest, think about engineering as a career.