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Energy (power generation): industry sector overview

Energy (power generation): industry sector overview

The power generation sector needs graduates from many different engineering disciplines to help solve the UK's energy crisis.

The power generation sector is an essential service industry that uses technologies ranging from the mature steam turbine to pioneering marine current turbines. Since privatisation in 1990, the main objective of the sector has been profitability for shareholders, although issues such as health, safety, sustainability and fuel poverty have also become increasingly important on the corporate agenda.

During privatisation the industry was split into core components: generation, transmission and distribution networks, metering and sales. The major players are worldwide companies that have a vertically integrated structure, meaning those that generate, distribute and sell power. Smaller entities and independent power producers (IPPs) sell their output to the major players or the open market using British Electricity Trading and Transmission Arrangements (BETTA).

Trends and developments in the energy industry

There is currently a resurgence of nuclear power around the world as current infrastructure comes to the end of its service life and new generation assets are required to avoid a ‘power crunch’. There is also the threat of a corresponding ‘skills crunch’ as the industry may not have enough engineers to develop and deliver energy solutions. Climate change is encouraging engineers to deploy sustainable energy solutions in a challenging commercial and regulatory environment. Engineers are contributing to the development of wind, hydro, wave, tidal, solar, biomass, combined heat and power, and micro-renewable technologies.

What it’s like working in power generation

Commercial availability and profitability provide challenges on a daily basis as short-term solutions need to be implemented quickly and safely. Long-term solutions must then be developed for the future. Circumstances change quickly and engineers play a key role in managing this change. Mobility is often required and projects can last from days to years. Typically, engineers work in small specialist teams, either in isolation or as part of a larger project group, and it is common to work on numerous projects simultaneously.

Getting a graduate engineering job in power generation

Engineers of almost all disciplines can join this industry by utilising key skills gained during any engineering degree. Employers seek engineers that have a good understanding of engineering concepts as well as the ability to assess risks, be decisive, manage projects and lead people. Other general skills sought include teambuilding, communication and planning; these will be tested at graduate assessment centres as part of the recruitment process. The graduate programmes available in the industry offer a fast track to chartered status and a wide range of work placements and development opportunities.

The highlights of a career in energy

  • Endless opportunities to tailor your role to your personal preferences and interests.
  • Exposure to all sizes and ages of plant and equipment.
  • An opportunity to be mentored by experienced engineers.

The power generation industry seeks graduates in...

  • Chemical
  • Civil/structural
  • Control
  • Electrical
  • Electronics
  • Environmental
  • Instruments
  • Manufacturing
  • Materials
  • Mathematics
  • Mechanical
  • Physics
  • Power systems
  • Software

Thanks to Paul Clarke, MIET IOSH APMP, for his help with this article. Paul is an asset developer for EDF Energy. He has a degree in electronic and electrical engineering and a masters in renewable energy systems technology.