Offshore sector offers prospects and variety

WORLDWIDE: While the offshore wind professionals we talked to came to the industry with very different backgrounds and disagree on the need for specialised degrees, they all see a bright future filled with opportunities.

Charlie Briggs: “Sailing helps me understand some of the issues. For example, why you need exclusion zones around turbines”
Charlie Briggs: “Sailing helps me understand some of the issues. For example, why you need exclusion zones around turbines”

Google Translate


Works as project manager for Sgurr Energy renewable energy consultancy, on projects in the US and Hong Kong

Spending around £15,000 on a masters degree meant getting a job paying a higher salary

I studied engineering at Durham University and joined consumer product giant Unilever. My last job there was as a senior project manager building production lines at an ice-cream factory. Then, I worked for about a year and half as a management consultant for Accenture. I’m a consultant now, so it was useful to learn how to deal with clients and so on. But the work was not as interesting as the work I do now.
It was my brother who suggested I might enjoy working in the renewable-energy industry — he picked up a newspaper supplement about renewable energy jobs. I’ve always been passionate about the environment and climate change, and this was my chance to do something I really believe in.

Education pays off

I did a masters degree in renewable-energy engineering and started working at consultancy Sgurr Energy while doing the course. I got into offshore wind last November. My course was full-time for a year, with two terms of modules and then a dissertation. The first term was spent learning about different types of renewables. From the beginning I had an inkling that I wanted to specialise in offshore wind.

Doing a course like the one I did at Herriot-Watt University in Edinburgh is a useful way of advancing yourself if you’re transferring from another industry. I spent a fair amount of time looking at whether I could go straight from Accenture into renewables, but I came to the conclusion that I’d have to go back down to graduate engineer level. Whereas if I spent around £15,000 on the course I thought I could get a job paying a higher salary. And that is what happened. I was 33 when I did the masters and I’m delighted I did it. In this industry you see so many people who come from other industries and are learning fast. It’s still quite a small field.

My day-to-day job involves a mixture of tasks: team meetings, working with clients, suppliers and tendering companies, and trying to move all projects along at the same time. The nice thing is that it involves a fair amount of time out of the office. I also love sailing and I get out to sea once a month or so. Sailing helps me understand some of the issues facing the offshore wind sector better. For example, why you need exclusion zones around turbines.

Two of the projects I’m involved in are really interesting and personally satisfying. One is the Cape Wind project, which has the potential to be the first offshore wind farm in the US. The other is the installation of an offshore measuring station in Hong Kong.

I definitely see myself in this industry for the rest of my career. Once wave and tidal devices become commercialised I’d love to get involved in that area as well, although I don’t see that happening in the immediate future. There are issues in common between onshore and offshore wind. But there are much higher costs and risks in offshore projects, so a lot more effort goes into risk management.

What makes offshore so interesting is the sheer scale of it. Turbines are being built with a 160-metre rotor – that is enormous. It’s brilliant, as well as slightly scary.


Works for UK environmental consultancy Apem, in operational research and development

"I could have ended up being quite desk bound"

My job focuses on optimising imaging systems for offshore ornithological surveys. A typical day could involve me flying onboard aircraft in order to operate our systems and capture images of offshore seabirds. I also process the imagery and work with our in-house ornithologists to improve species identification.

I do a lot of liaising with other members of the team — their feedback helps me to optimise our systems further so that we get the very best seabird images possible. In our ornithological surveys we are trying to identify both high population densities of seabirds and migratory paths.

I enjoy all aspects of my job, but flying out miles into the North Sea is definitely the best bit. All of the projects we work on take me to places that have never been surveyed before. In the course of a working week I'll often travel further than some people will travel in a year.

My undergraduate degree was in environmental biology and my MSc was in remote sensing. Remote sensing is a very broad field, so I knew that I would be working with aerial data, but to be as involved as I am in actual surveying isn't something I expected. It's been a real surprise and a welcome one.

The possibility of working in the offshore wind sector wasn't really mentioned when I was doing my MSc, but I can see now that the skills I gained in both of my degrees are ideal for this work. I could have ended up being quite desk bound, processing satellite images from half way around the world. The offshore wind sector has offered me a truly unique role.


Works Siemens Wind, UK
"We're creating an industry, developing solutions"

I'm the senior project manager for the first offshore wind farm being built by Siemens in the UK, the Walney II wind farm in the Irish Sea. It's an exciting project. It's not just a new wind farm, it's the first location in the world where Siemens is installing its new SWT3.6-1.2 turbines.

I'm only 30 years old and I'm running a project team of 120 people. I did an MEng degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Edinburgh and then worked for Shell Exploration and Production.

I decided that oil and gas wasn't the sector I wanted to work in. I've always been interested in renewable energy and so I moved to a renewable energy consultancy, Sgurr Energy, and later set up my own consultancy in Germany, working for clients such as RWE. My next step was joining Siemens Wind.

When you work in established industries, like oil and gas, everything is already set up. But in offshore wind we're creating an industry, we're developing solutions as we go along. Everyone I'm working with has chosen to work in this field — they all love working in offshore wind.

The offshore wind sector is expanding quickly and is recruiting aggressively. It's challenging and stressful to be creating a workforce as we go along, but massively exciting.


Works as partner for UK law firm Eversheds
Loves working on global precedent-setting offshore projects

I head up the clean energy and sustainability group at Eversheds. Our team advises utilities, private-equity funds, banks and independent developers about onshore and offshore wind, biomass, solar, hydro and geothermal projects. We are also heavily involved in policy, and work with a number of industry groups and with the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change.

My area of expertise is mergers and acquisitions and private equity. A typical day will involve advising clients on acquisitions or disposals or investments they are making or seeking in the renewables space. I usually attend an industry group meeting or I might speak at a conference. I am a member of the RenewableUK offshore wind strategy group, and the UK government's offshore wind cost-reduction task force.

I got involved in the renewables sector about nine years ago, and the first offshore work began when I advised Statkraft on its acquisition of Sheringham Shoal. I then worked with bidders on UK's Round 3 of offshore projects.

The supply chain for offshore wind is a huge challenge and affects the ability of these projects to attract non-recourse financing. Onshore financing by comparison is simple.

Much of the infrastructure needed to supply offshore-wind components needs to be secured, such as ports and ships. And, of course, building in what will increasingly be deeper waters and further from shore brings its own problems. The industry must be supported as it attempts to find solutions to these challenges. Offshore wind is probably one of the most truly innovative part of the wider renewables sector.
It is great to be working on ground-breaking projects, which are setting precedents globally. Our offshore wind clients are innovative and hugely focused on delivering. Despite the challenges of the offshore wind industry, it is an enormously positive part of the sector to work in.


Works for E.on Climate and Renewables, Germany as health, safety, security & environment co-ordinator
One study found that offshore wind farms can lead to biodiversity enhancements

Part of my job is to support the health, safety and environment managers who oversee our operational wind farms in UK, Nordic and German waters. At a strategic level, I look at issues that need to be addressed, such as the benefits and impacts of offshore wind farms.

One big project of ours I participated in was a study published last year in collaboration with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on the biodiversity effects of offshore wind farms. From an offshore developer point of view we were often faced with contradictory scientific results. We wanted to improve our understanding of what is scientifically clear when it comes to environmental impacts and what are myths, so we approached IUCN. They reviewed all of the scientific literature and assessed its quality.

One of the study's findings was that offshore wind farms can lead to biodiversity enhancements because fishing — particularly trawling — generally isn't allowed within the wind farms. So marine life has more protection, which increases populations and expands the number of species. It's such a positive impact. In terms of biodiversity effects that require more investigation, piling noise and its impact on marine life is something we're working on.

We also need to understand the expectations of different stakeholders more fully. There may be greater opportunities to work together. For instance, in some locations aquaculture projects could be combined with offshore wind farms, allowing for the creation of mussel or oyster beds.

I began working for E.on after I completed my studies in environmental science. I wanted to go into the energy sector and I was interested in renewables, but I wasn't looking in particular for a job that involved offshore wind. I expect offshore wind to become a bigger part of my work over time, as it is one of the company's key areas of focus.


Works as UK president of French power generation firm Alstom, also a member of the UK government's offshore wind cost-cutting task force
Wants to see the offshore wind sector develop apprenticeships

I've been involved in offshore wind for around two years, and more than ten years in onshore wind. Alstom is developing technology for use in Round 3. We are evaluating where in the UK we might do assembly work.

I started in engineering 35 years ago as an apprentice electrical engineer. I've been able to carve out a really interesting international career in a lot of roles — this is what's available to people pursuing careers in energy.

Offshore wind will be a long-term industry, not a one-minute wonder where there's lots of shouting and attracting people, and then all of a sudden there's nothing.

The breadth of competencies in offshore wind is colossal. There is electronic and electrical engineering, civil engineering, control engineering, project management and marine engineering. A vast array of different disciplines is brought together to develop a wind farm.

This industry will create jobs where we need them — in Scotland and the north east, the east and west of England.

Alstom doesn't have any training schools in offshore wind yet, but we invest in the National Skills Academy for Power and the Renewables Training Network. It's the responsibility of both government and employers to attract the right people, particularly young people, to this industry.

We need to recreate apprenticeships — you can't expect people to fall out of university and be immediately 100% productive. Now is the time to develop and encourage the right skills so that by the time projects take off we have a pool of good people in the country.


Works for UK marine ecology consultancy Thomson Unicomarine as senior principal biologist and operations manager
Found 400,000 amphipod crustacean on monopile

I have always been interested in animals, especially invertebrates. After graduating from Hull University in 1993 I joined Unicomarine, which specialises in biological surveys, sample analysis, and impact  assessments. The thrill of searching marine sediment for animals, reminiscent of my childhood rockpooling, now paid my wages!

These days my role involves day-to-day management and development, but I still do some microscope work as I manage the National Marine Biological Analytical Quality Control Scheme, an international quality assurance scheme.

I have worked for several industries, including aggregates, port developments, oil and gas and foreshore developments. Biological surveys and analysis are essentially the same.

Offshore wind is rapidly becoming a major client. Offshore wind developments differ due to the standard suite of biological surveys required by the Crown Estate, which owns the rights to UK waters. These surveys will add to our collective knowledge of the UK marine environment, including sea birds, cetaceans, fish, benthic communities (animals that live within the sediment) and geophysical surveys.

In 1998, I was involved in the Scroby Sands wind farm off England's east coast at Great Yarmouth. I was a member of our team of four biologists working on the offshore seabed survey gathering baseline data to examine the suitability of the proposed development. I recall very long surveys, using trawling continuing into the night, as we capitalised on the tidal currents.

Journey of discovery

A study of the colonisation of an experimental wind turbine monopile at the proposed Scroby Sands development is the most interesting wind project I have been involved with. The study found a huge colonisation of 400,000 Jassa falcata — a tube-dwelling amphipod crustacean — per square metre on the monopile. This, in turn, could support biodiversity.

There is great potential for further study into the "ecological ergonomics" of wind farm developments and we're working with other parties to advance the industry's understanding through research and education. These could have a real benefit — you could produce positive biological measurables in biodiversity, fish stocks, along with a legacy of high quality national data.

I learned virtually all the specific knowledge and skills required for offshore wind energy during my full-time employment — there is no substitute for on the job training. The company employs 27 full-time marine biologists, all graduates. It takes about two years of biological sample processing to achieve a basic level of competence and longer for expert-level knowledge. A seabed sample can take anything from a few hours to two weeks to process. A typical project can have 60 samples, so it's a lot of work.

The offshore wind sector offers good development with continued biological monitoring and research. We have recruited new staff in the past eight months and now have a marine cetaceans team of 12, marine mammal observers, and passive acoustic monitoring- qualified staff.

Our understanding of the relationship between offshore wind farms and the marine environment is relatively sparse and as technology evolves so, too, will our biological monitoring techniques.


Works as head of offshore renewables for UK engineering consultancy G3 Baxi
Most interesting project was one that was never built

I always wanted to do something that contributed to reducing consumption of fossil fuels, but I didn't aim to be employed in the offshore wind industry. It happened more by chance.

I've also worked in onshore wind, which is more mature so there is more or less a "template" for delivery. It's not as complex as offshore. It is difficult, but not impossible, to transition from onshore to offshore, but it helps if you have had marine or offshore experience in other industries.

I had a background in oil and gas, thanks to my work for NL Baroid, and I spent plenty of time on offshore rigs and vessels, from the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. The oil and gas industry has a very structured education and training process allied to ongoing personnel development, which isn't the case in the offshore wind industry. However, offshore wind offers good opportunities for career development. Although my BSc in geology from the University of Aberdeen has been relevant to my work, I have mainly developed knowledge and skills on the job. I would not be a supporter of an offshore wind degree, as I believe there are many skills from many different sectors that are required to deliver offshore projects. However, good training courses for health and safety and for technicians are a must.

The most interesting offshore wind project I've been involved in so far was the Shell Flat project in the Irish Sea, developed by Scottish Power Renewables and Cirrus Power. It wasn't built because of aviation and environmental objections.

As well as working on UK offshore wind Round 1 and 2 projects I have helped establish, and was inaugural chair of, the East Irish Sea Developers Group, which brought together all of the offshore wind developers active in the Irish Sea to address common issues and co-ordinate surveys and resources. I'm also an active member of industry association RenewableUK and have sat on some of its sub-committees.
I think the biggest challenges facing the offshore wind sector are planning, health and safety, lack of experience and finance.


Works for Siemens in Scotland, UK as a service engineer
More pressure with offshore than with onshore wind farms to keep turbines operational

I graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2010. I'm part of a team responsible for servicing and maintaining operational wind farms. I've worked on both onshore and offshore wind farms. With offshore wind farms there is the challenge of just getting to work — travelling by boat. That's quite fun.
There is more pressure with offshore than with onshore wind farms to keep turbines operational. We need to get it right the first time and focus on preventative maintenance.

In particular, I've really enjoyed working on Rhyl Flats offshore wind farm off the North Wales coast. It's small, but really well run with a good project team. It offers a good blueprint for the larger wind farms we're developing now.


Works for Mitsubishi Power Systems Europe
Round 3 offshore projects are so interesting because of the scale

During my first few years at Mitsubishi I worked on onshore wind projects before moving to offshore wind. It is a very different discipline, with much greater challenges.

It is possible to migrate from working in offshore wind to onshore, but I think it would be difficult to move the other way now. I couldn't find a more rewarding career right now and I would recommend it for any young engineer. Offshore wind offers technological excitement and it is a whole new area to explore, which is rare these days. And it's growing.

The most interesting projects I've worked on are the UK Round 3 projects currently in development. Offshore wind in Europe, and Round 3 in particular, are so interesting because of the scale, the distance, the accessibility issues — it's so different to the existing programmes.

My undergraduate and graduate education prepared me for a great deal of the work I do now, although I have also developed skills on the job. I think it is good to have renewable-energy qualifications available, but I don't think we need more specific onshore or offshore degree courses, at least not up to graduate level.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles
and free email bulletins.

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in

Windpower Monthly Events

Latest Jobs