International Women in Engineering Day 2019: Interview with IES PhD student Anna Garcia-Teruel

Anna Garcia-Teruel is a PhD student working on wave energy technologies in the Institute for Energy Systems.

Before coming to Edinburgh to study for her PhD 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.

Anna took part in the following interview to mark International Women in Engineering Day 2019.

Can you explain your research ‘in a nutshell’?

The potential for wave energy in the UK has been estimated at 75 TWh/year. To put this in context, latest figures estimate that around 99TWh/year of energy is produced by all sources of renewable power in the UK, and wave energy accounts for only 4GWh of this. [1]

Wave energy can be converted into electricity with help of Wave Energy Converters (WECs), but the challenge is to design a wave energy converter which can extract most energy from the waves while keeping the costs 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 project is to develop a wave energy converter optimisation tool, able to determine how the device’s floating body should look depending on where it will be placed, what materials will be used for its construction and so on, so that the most cost-effective solution can be determined.

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 something about the world we live in. I wanted to act against climate change and make our living more sustainable, so I decided that I wanted to contribute to the development of renewable energy technologies and a career in engineering seemed to be the right tool to achieve this.

Engineering has offered me the opportunity to get a wide understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the field. I was not only able to learn about renewable energy, but also other types of power generation and most importantly the physical and engineering principles they build on, such as thermodynamics, controls, machine design and manufacturing, materials, mathematics, chemistry, and more.

Today I am still inspired to contribute to the development of renewable energy technologies for a more sustainable planet, with the help of my engineering knowledge.

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, develop new skills and fill my head with new ideas.

The path was, however, not easy. It required persistence, the ability to work independently and with others, learning to overcome failure and sometimes proving sceptical minds that you can do this. But the effort is worth it: it is truly satisfying to spend hours having deep discussions with yourself or with others, until it finally clicks and you understand something you did not before, you find the solution to a problem or you have a great idea that you are excited to pursue.

So studying engineering overall was a very enriching experience, not only to learn about a wide range of topics, but also to develop as a person, and become more resilient.

How would you like your career to develop in future?

I would like to continue doing research in renewable energy technologies, and particularly in marine energy. I would like to build up a research group that supports the development of offshore renewable energy technologies up to 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 other young engineers.

Do you have any advice for the next generation of women thinking of getting into engineering?

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

[1] Source: Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES): renewable sources of energy 2018 – Chapter 6 (accessed June 2019)

Anna Garcia-Teruel is completing her PhD on renewable energy technologies in the Institute for Energy Systems
Anna Garcia-Teruel is completing her PhD on renewable energy technologies in the Institute for Energy Systems