"Today I am inspired to contribute to the development of renewable energy technologies for a more sustainable planet, and plan to do so with the help of the engineering knowledge that I have obtained during my academic studies."
Dr Anna Garcia-Teruel, Institute for Energy Systems, School of Engineering.
Anna Garcia-Teruel is a Research Associate working on offshore renewable energy technologies in the Institute for Energy Systems.
Before coming to Edinburgh to study for her PhD in wave energy in 2016, Anna gained her MSc and BSc in Mechanical Engineering from the Technical University Munich. It was during her time at Munich that Anna’s interest in renewable energy system optimisation was sparked while studying the European energy transition at the German Aerospace Centre.
Anna is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, initiator and organiser of the University’s Marine Energy discussion group and a STEM ambassador working to encourage young people in UK schools to take up STEM subjects.
Here, Dr Garcia-Teruel talks about her career as a woman in STEM, and engineer at the University of Edinburgh, School of Engineering.
What inspired you to get into engineering? Is it the same thing that inspires you today?
I wanted to have a job that would allow me to change and improve something about the world that we live in. I wanted to be involved in in the fight against climate change and making our living more sustainable. I decided that I wanted to contribute to the development of renewable energy technologies. A career in engineering seemed to be the right path to achieve this.
Engineering has offered me the opportunity to get a wider understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the field of renewable energy. I have not only been able to learn about renewable energy, but also other types of power generation and the physical and engineering principles that they are built upon such as thermodynamics, controls, machine design, manufacturing, materials, mathematics and chemistry.
Today I am still inspired to contribute to the development of renewable energy technologies for a more sustainable planet, and plan to do so with the help of the engineering knowledge that I have obtained during my academic studies.
What have been the highlights and challenges of studying engineering so far?
The main highlight of studying engineering for me was having the opportunity to learn about many different topics. This allowed me to discover new interests and develop new skillsets.
However, the path to becoming an engineer was not easy. It required persistence and the ability to work independently as well as with others. It has also taught me to overcome failure. When working towards becoming an engineer, there may be times that you have to prove to yourself that you are fully capable to attempt some complicated tasks. The effort is worth it - it is truly satisfying to spend hours having in-depth discussions with fellow scientists and engineers working towards understanding new and exciting topics to find solutions to a problem, or develop a new idea that become excited to pursue.
Studying engineering overall has been a very enriching experience. It has allowed me to learn about a wide range of topics and to develop as a person, and become more resilient.
Can you explain your research ‘in a nutshell’?
The potential for wave energy in the United Kingdom has been estimated at around 75 TWh/year. To put this in context, the latest figures estimate that around 99TWh/year of energy is produced by all sources of renewable power in the United Kingdom. Wave energy accounts for only 4GWh of this .
Wave energy can be converted into electricity with help of Wave Energy Converters (WECs). However, a challenge exists to design a wave energy converter that can extract energy waves while keeping the costs of using Wave energy converts as low as possible.
Many wave energy converter concepts use the wave-induced oscillation of a floating or submerged body to generate electricity. The structure of the device has a big influence on how the device will oscillate in waves and is, therefore, a key element for power extraction. Device design also has huge implications for potential cost reduction.
The aim of my PhD research project was to develop a wave energy converter optimisation tool that is able to determine how the device’s floating body should look depending on where it will be placed, and what materials will be used for its construction. In carrying out this research, the most cost-effective solution for the method was also investigated.
As a newly appointed Research Associate, I am now also looking at the economic and environmental potential of innovative floating offshore wind technologies.
How would you like your career to develop in future?
I would like to continue doing research in renewable energy technologies, particularly in offshore renewable energy. I would like to form a research group that supports the development of offshore renewable energy technologies towards commercialisation. Additionally, I would like to help raise awareness about the opportunities and challenges of the existing renewable energy technologies, as well as support the development of future engineers.
What attracted you to a career in research and academia?
During my undergraduate and Master studies, I had the opportunity to gain diverse experience in both industrial and research focused environments. When working in industry, I did an internship in a small company in the area of manufacturing. I have also done an internship in a larger company in the research and development. Further to this, I have carried out research work at the University of Edinburgh as well as within a national research laboratory. I have also supported teaching activities as tutor and developing teaching materials while working at the University of Edinburgh. It was during my time carrying out research and teaching activities that I realised that I enjoy research activities. I enjoy working in areas where new problems need to be solved and require learning new skills and theory, making links to the current knowledge available from other disciplines and transferring and applying this knowledge to the problem to be solved. From my experience the flexibility to do this was greater in a non-industrial context. Compared to industry, academia is more oriented towards generating new knowledge rather than a commercial product. From my tutoring and academic experience in general, I also realised that I enjoy interacting with others and learning with them. The possibility of participating in teaching activities is also a factor that attracted me to academia.
What do you enjoy most about research and academia at the school of engineering?
I enjoy being able to read up on and investigate new topics. Looking for information about the topics and coming up with new ideas about solutions to research questions that brings me a step closer to doing something new or improving the way we do things.
I also enjoy thinking about the bigger picture and what types of projects or topics would be interesting and relevant to look into, and then implementing them. For example, setting out research topics as masters projects that I can supervise, and following-up the progress and offering guidance to fellow researchers or developing the project as a research project with international partners. I find it particularly interesting to work on and develop research ideas with fellow engineers. Different people look at things from different angles and this results in a joint learning process and more relevant and interesting outcomes.
What career advice would you give for aspiring students, particularly young girls, wishing to pursue a career STEM?
Be the change you wish to see in the world.
What career advice would you give to undergraduate and postgraduate students wishing to pursue a career in research and academia?
If you enjoy doing research and your job is an important part of your life, go for it! Do your best, try to meet with and network with fellow engineers. Make use of networking opportunities. In academic research you can work with people from all over the world, and that is always a very enriching experience. However, the academic career path is not straight forward nor easy, learning resilience is a key skill. Research can be quite absorbing, so also keep this in mind, do not forget to enjoy the journey and all aspects of the journey as well.
 Source: Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES): renewable sources of energy 2018 – Chapter 6: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/renewable-sources-of-energy-chapter-6-digest-of-united-kingdom-energy-statistics-dukes (accessed June 2019)