More engineers are needed to help solve the crisis we all face in energy provision

President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (2007-2008) and Group Head of Engineering at BP
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The Independent Online

The realities of what Britain needs to do to reduce its reliance on oil have never been clearer, nor more controversial. The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, signalled this week that the country will need a new generation of nuclear power stations that will go beyond replacing the current network. At the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), our policy is that nuclear power must be included in a balanced portfolio to bridge the energy gap that we are facing.

What is particularly poignant for us in 2008 is that we must create more sustainable ways of generating power – be that through the use of nuclear power or through renewable energy provided by the wind, the sea and the sun, to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

At IMechE, we have introduced Energy as one of four key themes, along with Environment, Transport and Education and we are committed to tackling the challenges head-on to solving the world’s energy and environmental problems – as only engineers can.

At the IMechE, over a quarter of our 80,000-strong membership of professional engineers are working across the energy sector, including nuclear, fossil fuels and renewables. As you read through these pages, I hope you will become as inspired by the engineering technology, the projects and people we work with, as I have been. I have been lucky enough to enjoy a challenging energy career for over 38 years and energy is now becoming a controversial area which we must not shy away from.

If you are reading this and you are interested in finding out more about the work of the IMechE, our engineers and companies, why not take a look at our brand new Energy Portal, which we are launching in conjunction with this supplement today. As IMechE runs through its energy quarter, the Portal will provide an online hub of information on a subject matter which is still confusing for so many. Our aim is to provide an unbiased, accurate, interesting and informative home for people to read more about some of the technologies mentioned here, and it will focus on energy production, demand, education and a chance for you to provide comment.

IMechE has a vision to improve the world through engineering, which we are achieving by setting the agenda, developing the careers of professional engineers and, crucially, inspiring the next generation. If recent statistics are to be believed, 70 per cent of 16- to 19 year-olds do not even know what engineering is. We have a challenge ahead of us. In my career, I have been a Royal Navy submarine engineer, director of engineering at the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and now, in my post as group head of engineering at BP, energy challenges remain something I embrace.

One of the biggest challenges facing our generation is changing our mindset about how we use energy. IMechE believes in an energy hierarchy where we must start off with energy conservation, energy efficiency (using technology to reduce demand and eliminate waste), then exploiting our sustainable, renewable and nuclear resources and finally, relying upon fossil fuels as a last resort.

So what does the future hold? Well, in an ideal world, an abundance of engineers tackling our energy problems. Reality, though, states otherwise and we face a shortage of engineers, in some areas by as much as 20,000 within the next few years. The Government, industry and we as a community need to make a difference before it is too late.

Visit the IMechE Energy Portal at