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Local students create wind farms at renewable energy event

Undergraduates and sixth-formers in the region were given the opportunity to design and plan their own wind farm at a three-day educational programme run by The University of East Anglia (UEA) in partnership with Vattenfall and 3DWebtech from 19 – 21 September. The event highlighted the important role science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM subjects) play in the renewable energy sector.

Vattenfall is one of Europe’s largest energy companies, and the programme focused on its Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas projects, two of the world’s largest wind farms proposed to lie off the north Norfolk coast. Together, these projects, if approved, are set to provide renewable energy equivalent to 10% of UK domestic electricity needs and create 150 direct, highly skilled jobs in the region for their 25-year, plus lifetimes.

UEA Science and Engineering students were challenged to design their own wind farm, using 3DWebtech’s 3D modelling technology and connect it to a virtual grid, while considering the impact on communities, environmental constraints and financial viability. Teams then presented their designs to a panel of university and industry judges who provided feedback.

On the second day, the students used what they had learned to mentor Year 13 students from local sixth-forms, to design their own wind farm. The sixth-form liaison was coordinated and organised by the UEA Outreach Office. Colleges attending are Dereham Sixth-Form, University Technology College Norfolk, East Norfolk Sixth-Form, Reepham College and East Coast College Lowestoft.

They also met representatives from Norfolk County Council, Suffolk County Council, Breckland District Council and North Norfolk District Council, East of England Energy Group (EEEGR), The Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, New Anglia LEP and The Mason Trust to share their learning and recommendations.

UEA undergraduate Angus Binnian, who took part in the event, said: “It was an unforgettable event that has really helped me to visualise the possibilities of my future.” 

Prof Lawrence Coates, Director of Engineering at UEA, said: “With the shortfall in the number of graduates to fill skilled STEM roles, it’s crucial we equip the future generation with the right knowledge and experience to make decisions about their careers.”

“The three-day programme provided a perfect opportunity for students to explore a real-life renewables project in the region, as well as develop softer-skills, such as creative thinking, teamworking, problem solving and communication. Overall, the event was a great success for everyone involved and emphasised the importance of academia and industry working together.” 

Vattenfall’s UK Country Manager, Danielle Lane, said: “The East of England will see rapid growth in offshore wind farm development over the coming years and the sector will need many skilled engineers and technicians to make that happen. That’s why skills developers, whether in school, college or University are so important and why we are determined to support them, for example through this fascinating wind farm-design initiative.

“Be in no doubt, designing a wind farm that is sensitive to the environment, productive and delivers cost-efficient energy takes years of research, consultation, planning and multi-disciplinary design. The students have gained a real insight into this challenge and developed important mentoring and leadership skills. This was thanks to the guidance of specialists at UEA and other colleges and being able to use 3D-Webtech’s innovative 3D VR offshore wind farm modelling technology.”

The educational programme is part of a wider initiative by Vattenfall, who are engaging with young people though a number of programmes including Internships (with the Ogden Trust and Nexus); Work Experience pilots and through working with Colby Primary School - developing an outreach programme that the young people, themselves, lead. 

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