I’m part of a team that helps develop high-voltage direct current (HVDC) interconnectors – huge electricity cables – that link the UK to other countries and to offshore wind farms.
Interconnectors are vital to achieving net zero. They enable the country to access low-carbon electricity from giant offshore wind farms, import renewable and nuclear energy from the continent, and export surplus renewable generation that might otherwise go to waste.
Because this is a relatively immature technology, new challenges emerge all the time and, as a design engineer, part of my job is to push boundaries. Interconnector developers are paid per megawatt hour of electricity, so we need to balance the risk of adopting new approaches with the benefits of designing schemes to the highest possible voltage so they can move more power.
This means we have to think differently. So, when one developer asked us whether the interconnector could be deliberately overloaded for a short period – to take advantage of high winds – we looked into it, even though the scheme had already been designed. Working with the equipment supplier, we established it would be possible.
We could simply have said no, but I think not necessarily taking no for an answer is an important quality in a #wspchangemaker. That’s why I’ve always admired Isambard Kingdom Brunel. I love his brainstorming spirit. And, while engineering today is a lot safer than in his day, I think it’s a shame we don’t have more of his fearless attitude.
While much of Brunel’s work is still prominent today, my team’s projects are largely hidden from view. It might sound odd, but that’s something I’m proud of. My planning colleagues recently worked with the local community to secure approval for an interconnector in the UK, where the cable will be dug unobtrusively beneath a popular beach. Nobody playing on the sand will have any idea about the low-carbon electricity flowing deep beneath their feet.
Our WSP Changemakers are developing the power networks that ensure you always have the electricity you need to make a cup of tea and call your loved ones at home.
Find out about our work on one of Europe's longest interconnectors