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Mark is an electrical and mechanical engineer in Atkins' Future Energies team, part of the power and renewables business. His role includes driving the development and commercialisation of new technologies and gathering insight and understanding of global renewable markets.

Mark won the Telegraph STEM Awards 2015 energy category for devising the Wind Energy Reservoir Storage (WERS) renewable energy storage system.

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For the energy industry, this challenge is the “trilemma”; trying to balance security of supply, reduction of emissions, and the cost of energy. This trilemma directly influences the market conditions that drive innovation, such as energy policy, or financial incentives.

Abigail, Barney, Eva, Frank, Imogen… no they aren’t work colleagues, but storms that have impacted the UK over the last few months, reinforcing that the UK is resource-rich in wave, tidal and wind potential. If we are to meet the UK’s decarbonisation targets, offshore wind has a major part to play.

This month we saw DONG Energy’s Hornsea Project One offshore windfarm, representing over £15bn in investment, get the green light. As more and more offshore windfarms of this scale are deployed, we have to consider what structure is used below the waterline to support the wind turbine itself. This is just one of the engineering challenges driving innovation for us at Atkins.

As shallow water sites around the UK become scarcer, we will have to look to deeper water for our next generation of windfarms. Floating windfarms are ideally suited to operate in these deep waters and could substantially increase our offshore wind generating capacity. Not only could they help us to meet our decarbonisation targets, they also hold the potential to accelerate the creation of a European super grid.

With floating windfarms able to be situated further from the coast, it reduces the visual impact normally associated with onshore and nearshore windfarms; what I like to call the “not in my back garden” factor. This means they can accommodate the largest turbines available, to generate power more efficiently.

Atkins has been involved in various floating offshore wind projects, including Principal Power’s WindFloat concept; Pilot Offshore Renewable’s Kincardine project; and Hexicon’s world –first, multi-turbine, offshore wind floating concept. These projects cover a range of different designs, in different environments, and show that Atkins is at the very forefront of innovative floating substructure design.

Pushing boundaries, working collaboratively and facing the challenges in the energy sector head on creates a culture of innovation. This is a culture that has fostered the development of the floating offshore wind sector, which I see as an integral part of meeting our emission reduction targets, and our energy demand, in years to come.

This blog was first posted on the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering blog.  

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Against this background, governments are setting energy policy to reduce carbon intensity in energy generation whilst reducing energy demand. However, this has to be done without impacting security of supply or creating unacceptable increases in cost to vulnerable members of society.

With this changing energy landscape, National Grid and several other companies have developed future scenarios to try and balance the energy trilemma of sustainability, affordability and security of supply. One pillar of UK energy production that impacts on the trilemma is the North Sea.

It is rich in resources – hydrocarbons, wind energy or tidal/wave potential – and there are a number of innovative ideas that are looking at how best to harness this energy. For the UK to achieve its decarbonisation targets, a significant level of electricity generated from offshore wind will be required and is represented in most future electricity generation scenarios.

Whilst benefiting from increased capacity factors (the amount of electricity it actually generates) in comparison to onshore wind, like other renewable technologies the power produced from offshore wind is variable and can present a balancing challenge for the system operator. Wide deployment of energy storage technologies could provide a solution, and existing North Sea infrastructure could provide that storage capacity.

WERS (Wind Energy Reservoir Storage) was a concept that won the UK STEM Awards 2015 Energy Category and aims to utilise existing and aging offshore production platforms and their associated spent reservoirs (partially or fully) as a high pressure water store. Existing oil and gas infrastructure and subsea wells use water injection to improve hydrocarbon production and maintain the integrity of the wells. The reservoir would be pressurised using existing water injection pumps powered using offshore wind turbines when demand is low. When demand is high and/or when the wind farm is not generating, the accumulated well pressure would drive turbine generator sets on the platforms, using the wind farms existing electrical connections to the mainland to export the electricity to the national grid.

Over the next year, the WERS concept will be developed technically and economically, using Atkins' existing relationships with both the renewables and oil & gas sectors. As momentum builds for domestic/distributed energy storage, WERS will offer a centralised, large scale solution to meet our future energy demand.

This development will take place in our new Future Energies team. Future Energies is all about how we respond to energy challenges within the Power sector. How we obtain, distribute and use our energy in the future will be very different from what we do now. Generation will become more decentralised and heat and electricity will become far more closely linked. The use of fossil fuels will diminish and the use of renewable technologies will increase. The technologies we utilise will become smarter and more integrated. Our focus will be on establishing Atkins as a leading player in this changing world.

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