By Dayo Adesulu
Professor Phil Hart is the Director of Energy and Power at the Cranfield University, United Kingdom. Over the years, he has held a series of senior roles within the energy and Power Sector in the UK, Asia and North America as an engineering director, chief technology officer, chief operating officer and president. He is a recognised industry leader in wave energy conversion technologies in the US and has advised the US Department of Energy repeatedly on innovation strategies for this technology.
In this interview with Sunday Vanguard, he disclosed sundry issues bothering on power, energy and how to boost the sector through renewable energy.
Your portfolio is all around energy, power and how to get it. Obviously, your wealth of knowledge in this field will be of tremendous benefit to Nigeria, being a big energy consuming country.
What in your opinion Sir, do you think our government can do to assist students get the necessary knowledge to alleviate the problem of power?
I actually have two Nigerian PhD students working for me in the UK at the moment looking exactly into that problem. First of all, your energy grid, your way of distributing electricity around the country is really weak. But there are many cities and huge rural expanse trying to grow that grid probably the way you would have done it 50 years ago, but certainly not the way you should do it now.
So, the adoption of local renewable energy and local grids are potentially connected back to the central grid that don’t need to be. It is key for developing countries to look at their energy infrastructure and we are researching how you should do that and the best ways you should do that and the ways that government policy and strategy can support that.
With many answers to it, you have to look at what is the strategy from the government, what are the policy instruments that they are putting in place to implement that technology and what technology choices should you make.
Advent of Renewable Energy, Storage and Microgrids
Leapfrog over what old countries like the UK and the United States have done and implement that work for you. The advent of renewables, storage and microgrids allow Nigerians to make a completely different decision to some of the electric infrastructure that have been in countries for hundreds of years. You don’t need to go direct, but figure out what technology to use, the balance, what works for one particular area, is a big question that the government needs to invest in answering before rushing into a solution. Figure out what the right way is to get energy for as many people as quickly as possible.
The move from fossil fuels down to biofuels… Nigeria has a resource of biofuels. But what should we be looking at in terms of man power development to take advantage of this energy source?
Taking a look at few technology examples. Take for instance you went into wind energy, you have the choice to build a wind turbine infrastructure here that can build turbines locally, that can import materials and turn them into full-fledged structures.
Maintenance of Renewable Energy, Storage and Microgrids
So, there is the manufacturing side that needs to be looked at. There is also a big problem when you have installed them. So if you have an option, you can buy or manufacture and install those turbines. Of course, they also need regular maintenance too. There are some turbines in Nigeria that have been installed that are not working because they don’t have the staff, the trained technical staffs to maintain and keep them working. You have to buy or build choice right at the beginning for the capital infrastructure but must have the local skills level, the technician level, engineering level to keep that infrastructure operating.
Now that’s for wind, you have the same issues for almost every energy technologies including biofuels, solar, concentrated solar power. So, while you got challenges that are great to employ a large number of people, you can decide to do the whole thing in Nigeria or buy from outside. However, you will still need a local resource that is going to maintain and ensure that that equipment operates, otherwise you will be in the same problem of power interruption because you can’t fix your machinery. Moreover, it should be local resource that maintains those devices. There is no reason to buying the operational maintenance from anywhere else. So it should be something Nigeria is more than capable of doing.
Is it possible to localize this kind of training, maybe partnering/collaborating with our own local tertiary institutions, or what kind of partnership can you offer for our local institutions in training man power?
Part of our mission here is to build links with local universities and colleges. You will therefore have both ends of the guys that will fix and still maintain your power. You will also have the guys who are going to take the existing technologies and move it up to the next step.
Most of our work at Cranfield University is around the development of that tunnel technology and putting innovation into it and making it better. But with certain institutions that we have worked with in the UK, we can make all of those type of partnerships for you to train the trainers, and then come over here and train your really experienced engineers and technicians to then train local Nigerians.
We understand that Cranfield University is a postgraduate and research institute, could you highlight some of its cardinal principles or motto that drives the institution as it relates to your own space now?
The University as a whole is there to build technology managers in the future. We are mostly technology-based university, although we do have a very well respected notch in the school. But most of our subject coverage is around engineering and technology. The ethos of Cranfield University is that when you have come and studied with us, the day you join your employer you should be a useful contributor on day one. Some places are incredibly academically bias and you may come out knowing those equations, being able to fill up the white board with fancy numbers and get to an answer. We are more about making an impact, been able to get into a company and immediately show and demonstrate your worth.
We equip them with all of the tools and how to apply them, then it’s up to them to go out there and make a difference.
Power and Renewable Energy Available to Students
Within energy and power, we have advanced mechanical engineering, chemical engineering. Two tracks of renewable energy, renewable energy engineering and renewable energy management and process engineering.
The most important thing is the career we want to offer these students after completion of their Masters or PhD programme.
Physics and Chemistry Pivotal Role in Power and Renewable Courses
Our links with Nigeria in more than 20 years, shows that we have had some university alumni. With the recession in the oil prices, we would like to highlight that if there is a candidate with chemistry or physics degree, such graduates can up into a career of engineering that they inspire to be in either renewables, advance mechanical engineering and so on.
Besides, our research are grouped into four main areas. We have the research group that looks at energy strategy policy, impact of digitization, distribution technologies and microgrid. They answer the questions around whatever we need, when we need it, how we are going to get it there, what does it do, what is the impact of digital technology within.
We have a grid that looks at solar processes and materials that is the traditional fossil fuels based, oil and gas, gas turbines and coal. Therefore. any subject development within those subjects will become an important asset.
More so, in our institution, we have a centre that looks at all of the renewable technologies. As a result, there is research trying to innovate within wind solar, concentrate on the power wave, tidal wave, tidal lagoons, run-of-the-river and some type of tunnels. But the final research centre looks at how to mitigate any negative effects of production or any negative effects from use.
We are researching actively with PhDs from many countries, everything from what we need, to how we fix the problem that we caused. The guys at the end have a mission here. I have told them that by 2050, I want them to make themselves employable because they are going to fix all of those problems.
In terms of research projects, our country hardly work on our academics research. Where lies the problem and how can we make the research projects relevant to our economy?
There are two ways of doing research, you can either look at the blue-sky thinking that in 60 years you might want to be able to do something. We do some of that but not very much. Most of what we do is looking at maybe 10, 15, 20 years horizon based on industrial problems.
At the moment, we are working with companies on carbon capture (CCS) and storage technology and we are looking at the technologies where if you have a highly intensive process on generation of carbon dioxide, we think of steel manufacture or cement manufacture, those are really heavy emitters.
We are working on the technology that would capture as much of that carbon dioxide as it comes out as possible and limit the effects on plants because we are trying to keep down below the two and half degrees.
That is an active piece of work that we doing for multiple companies.
On a more traditional side we are doing some work at the moment on trying to take moisture out of gas fuel pipelines. The more moisture you have in a gas line, the shorter that line can be before it starts to need additional pumping or additional design or the pipeline has to be bigger.
We are working with an oil and gas major at the moment to develop and we are testing it now, a device that you put into the pipeline that has no moving parts, no active electricity, but it separates out the moisture within the space of a couple of metre. When we are able to prove that the technology works, we are going to extend a subsea tieback. Such that if you have a big platform you will have lots of satellite wells around it.
We are looking at the impact of our work to extend that from maybe 20km to 40km out to a 100km plus. And that means you can exploit resources from a single place instead of having to put multibillion dollar infrastructure into 15 places. So, we are doing that at the moment, it would hit the street hopefully within about 18 months from now.
Besides, If you look at the more traditional thermal site we have done a lot of development on turbine blade coatings, turbine blade materials, the internals of gas turbines in general to raise the temperature.
Essentially we know that gas is going to be with us as a major power source for the next 50 years, we can’t avoid that. We all love to rush to renewables but it’s not just possible to a 100 per cent. So our mission has been to raise the efficiency of those gas turbines so that we can get as much energy out as possible.
We are actively researching and have been for a good few years on raising that temperature up because the hotter you can make it, the more energy they can store, that means they can deliver or boil more water which means they can deliver more power. So our research on that and on the shape of the mirrors and how to keep these mirrors clean is directly impacted on the uptake of that turbines. So we have had many impacts on our nation, but those are just a few.