The IET Power Academy Summer Seminar 2012

The IET Power Academy Seminar is a two-day, all expenses paid conference for IET Power Academy scholars. Matthew Butler, an RWE Npower scholar from the University of Bath shares his experiences from this year’s conference.

Matthew Butler The IET Power Academy [new window] is a partnership between industry and academia established to address a power engineering skills shortage through a combination of financial support and workplace mentoring for students. A number of scholarships are awarded each year to students at participating universities, the benefits of which include a bursary of £2,200 for each year of study, mentors from industry partners, paid summer work placements and an annual high level seminar on important sector issues.

Taking place every year during university summer vacation time, The IET Power Academy Seminar is a two-day, all expenses paid conference held in a luxury hotel. Its aim is to bring together scholars, universities and industrial partners and focuses on current talking points within the power industry.

Both industry and academia discuss important power sector issues. Each year different universities and industrial partners host the conference and prestigious speakers are brought in. This year’s seminar was held on 12-13 July and was hosted by Cardiff University, Rolls-Royce and Western Power.

“In recent years, focuses have included energy security, skills shortages, the cost of energy, low carbon generation, transmission and distribution, public perception of different methods of generation and government policies,” says Matthew Butler, an RWE Npower scholar from the University of Bath. “The seminar provides a good chance for delegates to network with other like-minded engineers from different universities and industrial backgrounds and is always a great learning experience. This year the focus was on people, customers, efficiency, technology and safety,” he notes.

Networking opportunities

Experts from both academia and industry present over the two days, as well as IET staff, who highlight the benefits membership can offer Power Academy scholars past and present. Occasionally even the scholars themselves present. For example, an MEng student group from Cardiff University discussed their project on potential Severn barrage schemes for a grid connection date in 2030.

Network opportunities arise during the breaks and meals, with a gala dinner held for attendees. The seminar also provides great after dinner speakers and this year’s - mountaineer Nigel Vardy - did not disappoint.

Motivational speakers - mountaineer Nigel Vardy

“Nigel shared his experiences with us about the many adventures he has undertaken as a mountaineer. This included his life changing quest to Mount McKinley, Alaska where he lost parts of his hands, feet and nose to frostbite,” says Matthew. “The most exciting and emotive part of his talk, however, was regarding his ability to recover and adapt to life as an adventurer once again. He motivated and encouraged us to aim high and achieve big things in our chosen careers and lives.”

For Matthew the highlight of the seminar was his technical visit. Each student was able to visit one location from a choice of the WPD Helicopter Base, Rolls-Royce Military Aerospace, Tata Steel Port Talbot, The Morgan-Botti Lightning Laboratory and School of Engineering at Cardiff University or WPD Cardiff East Substation.

Technical visit opportunities

“It isn't only by attending the talks that you learn however, but also by going on the industrial visits where you see real power engineering put into practice. This year the highlight for me was going on the industrial visit to Western Power Distribution's Cardiff East substation,” he says.

“My sponsoring company, RWE Npower Renewables Ltd focuses largely on onshore and offshore wind generation. I have completed placements in the onshore department and have thus been to many wind farm substations. These tend to be quite small and nothing like the scale of the substation I saw in Cardiff,” Matthew explains.

“For example, a large 33/0.69 kV wind turbine generator transformer at a wind farm may be rated at 3 MVA whereas the main 275/132 kV transformers at Cardiff East were rated at 240 MVA - a lot bigger! It was brilliant to see how large-scale power distribution takes place and I now have an appreciation for how this works. Expanding my knowledge beyond power generation is an invaluable skill.”

The benefits of attending the Power Academy Seminar

Attending the seminars has always been one of Matthew’s biggest highlights of being a Power Academy scholar.

“At university, many engineering students are interested only in communications engineering or computer systems engineering where higher paid jobs may possibly be available,” he notes. “The seminars have been a great encouragement to see that there are many other students also passionate about the power industry and the challenges it faces over the next few decades.

“I have been able to widen my engineering and transferable skills knowledge greatly. I have gained a deeper understanding of various sections of the industry over and above my placement and university experiences. I have also been able to grow in confidence by speaking in front of groups of people and arguing my points in discussions and question times,” he concludes.