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Supporting renewable energy for the UK

As the UK Government plans to phase out coal fired plants in the UK by 2025, TWI has been working on a number of projects to advance renewable energy for the future of electricity production with zero carbon emissions.

Indeed, from 1-8 May, 2019, Britain had its first full week of electricity production without burning coal since 1882, when the world's first centralised public coal-fired generator opened at Holborn Viaduct in London.

Much of the energy from this coal-free week came from natural gas instead (46%), which emits just over half as much carbon dioxide as coal plants. While this is still not carbon zero, the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) is aiming to have systems and software in place by 2025 to handle energy generated from a variety of renewable sources, plus nuclear energy, without coal or gas.

To achieve this, more research needs to be done into optimising renewable energy sources and this is something that TWI has been active in supporting industry with.


TWI is active in a number of geothermal projects, using our extensive expertise and experience developed in the oil and gas sector in coatings, corrosion mitigation and pipe/drilling material properties, plant management and joining to help advance this important emerging energy source.

These projects include the S4CE (Science for Clean Energy) project to manage and mitigate environmental risks, the Geo-Coat project to develop erosion and corrosion-resistant coatings, GeoSmart which is looking into cost-effective heat energy storage, and the Geo-Drill project to develop cost-effective drilling technologies for geothermal energy production.

Geothermal provides a cost-effective, reliable and sustainable environmentally-friendly source of energy. As technological advances open up the range of viable resources, this renewable energy resource should see an increase in applications, such as home heating.

Solar Power

Thermal solar power has been used since 1910 when Frank Shuman powered a steam engine from sunlight in the Sahara. However, solar power was side-lined by the proliferation of fossil fuels during the 20th century. But, as renewable resources re-entered the conscious of the UK energy sector, so solar power once-again became an important part of the mix.

TWI’s knowledge of fabrication technology and materials expertise, including facilities for high-temperature testing, has already helped to drive down the cost of solar energy production and storage.

In addition, our development of advanced coatings and surface engineering has aided the optimisation of solar technology, for example with the SOLPLUS project which created a coating to mitigate the impact of dust and soiling on photo voltaic  solar panels to reduce maintenance costs and power efficiency losses.

SOLPLUS coating for solar panels
SOLPLUS coating for solar panels

Offshore Wind Energy

TWI has undertaken extensive work to support offshore wind energy generation. This work includes the investigation of cost reduction of offshore wind generator foundations using advanced fabrication methods and promotion of the use of thermally sprayed aluminium to prolong the life of offshore wind turbine foundations and reduce the associated costs in operation and maintenance. These coatings remove the need for sacrificial anodes, secondary steelwork, and eliminate extended curing times for multiple coatings of paint.

Other offshore wind energy projects undertaken by TWI include the CMSWind project to utilise a combination of vibration analysis (VA), the Crown 2 project, motor current signature analysis (MCSA) and acoustic emission (AE) to monitor the condition of in-service wind turbines. Elsewhere, the DashWin project saw TWI join a consortium of partners to develop and advanced shearography inspection unit and robotic deployment platform for the on-site inspection of wind turbine blades.

Hydro-Electric Power

Many of the concerns around corrosion that TWI has addressed with offshore wind are also applicable to hydro-electric and tidal stream power. Once again, our coatings and materials expertise have been used to find solutions, as with the ACORN project, which took thermally sprayed aluminium combined with eco-friendly, low-release-rate biocides to prevent barnacles from settling on surfaces. In this project, the aim was to prevent barnacles from settling and cutting through paints, blocking access points and causing difficulties for structural inspection, while also encouraging other marine species to settle.

Aligning with Government policy

TWI’s support for alternative energy sources aligns with the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy to boost productivity by investing in skills, industry and infrastructure. As part of this strategy, the Government have highlighted four 'Grand Challenges’ - areas where Britain can lead the global technological revolution. These Grand Challenges, include artificial intelligence and data, the ageing society, clean growth, and the future of mobility.

TWI has already demonstrated how our capabilities and expertise can match with these goals, such as through our work to promote clean growth and the future of mobility through electrification to revolutionise the future of transport and its associated infrastructure.

The combined work to promote renewable energy and the phasing out of petrol and diesel cars joins other consumer-based changes to reduce the human impact on the environment, including turning central heating thermostats down and eating less red meat.

Avatar Chris Punshon Industry Group Manager Power, Equipment and Infrastructure

Dr Chris Punshon joined TWI in 1983 as a project leader, following graduation with an honours degree from Sheffield University in Metallurgy BMet (hons), after a brief period post-graduation in 1982-83 working again as a heavy goods vehicle fitter and arable/livestock farming.

He has conducted a significant number of large and varied research programmes mainly focused on the power sector as well as oil and gas and marine industries, examining the relationships between materials, properties and performance in a wide range of materials and environments. For several years, he was responsible for the development of advanced joining process technologies for pipelines and pressure plant, seeing development from grass roots R&D to commercialisation, code approval and industrial exploitation.

His various roles within TWI since involved defining a renewed business strategy focusing on TWI key strengths and the emerging opportunities in the nuclear fusion, fission and renewable energy sectors, including offshore wind, solar PV, hydro, tidal stream and feeding a childhood passion for geothermal energy.

Lately, in 2017, following a re-structuring of the business development team, Chris was made responsible for the industry group covering power, materials, equipment and infrastructure with a responsibility for an annual R&D budget of over £15m.