Marie-Anne talks wind resource, energy yield and strong, Swedish coffee!

Feb 3, 2022 | 7 min read

We caught up with Marie-Anne Cowan from our Energy and Climate Analytics department to find out more about her skills, what attracted her to the world of offshore wind initially and what she gets up to here at WT.

Hi Marie-Anne! What exactly was it that inspired you to pursue a career in renewables engineering?

If you were to ask my parents they would tell you that I usually revelled in taking things apart to understand how they worked, so you could say I’ve always had a curiosity for how things work! This was nurtured throughout school and college. I enjoyed maths and science at school and my teachers helped guide me onto the right path, highlighting my strengths and the career options ahead.

I studied aerospace and aero thermal engineering at Cambridge University. Following graduation, I worked at a small independent wind engineering consultancy in Bristol called Garrad Hassan, where my work started primarily across onshore wind projects in the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia.

My first role was in wind resource and energy yield assessment. I have always enjoyed the technical focus, especially as the wind resource and energy yield is the cornerstone of any wind farm project. There is a lot of work that goes into understanding how best we can measure the conditions at the site and model the performance of the project and there is a lot riding on us getting the wind resource and energy yield estimates as accurate as possible … not only for the project investors, but also on the credibility of the industry!

My involvement in offshore began in around 2010 when I lead a team on wind energy assessments. The offshore wind industry was just starting to gain traction at this time, and it felt like such an exciting time to get involved and make the move from onshore. Moving to offshore was fascinating, as the scale is just so much bigger – and even more so now than then!

Was there anything you found particularly interesting from those initial projects you worked on?

To be honest, they were all quite interesting! Each project was a ‘first’ in some way or another, so it was all very exciting. I have fond memories of my first site visits in Ireland, touring around various wind farm sites and speaking to the landowners. The site visits in Scandinavia were also very cool; I remember one during winter, travelling around on a skidoo, then stopping for lunch in a wooden hut where our Swedish guides served up the strongest, thickest coffee I think I’ve ever had!

It’s great to be out there engaging with stakeholders and learning more about the specifics for each of the different locations, no day is the same!

Now you work for WT’s Energy and Climate Analytics department, what brought you here?

It really was a combination of the calibre and expertise of the people here within WT, everyone here is great and the level of expertise is exceptional, it really is the place to be!

When I heard about what was being built here within Wood Thilsted; I felt it was not something I could pass up. We are looking to combine the benefits of both the wind and metocean disciplines in delivering a harmonised approach to defining the atmospheric and oceanographic conditions at an offshore wind farm site, to ultimately support an optimised design of the turbine foundations.

Can you tell us more about what you are specifically responsible at WT?

I wear many hats as Lead Wind Engineer in the ECA team! One is to develop and establish our methodologies for wind resource and energy yield assessments, as well exploring how we can refine our approach to the atmospheric and oceanographic site conditions assessment together with my colleagues who are experts in metocean analysis. I am also assisting with business development opportunities. Throughout the years, I have gained excellent contacts across the industry, so I am keen to get the word out about this new capability at WT. Then of course there’s actual analysis work to be delivered and thought leadership activities to undertake to raise Wood Thilsted’s profile in the wind resource and energy yield space!

Our team has recently expanded to 6 people, with a mix of wind resource and metocean experts, which is great to combine the skillsets. For example, I recently trained one of my colleagues, who specialises in metocean, in wind resource and energy yield assessment, and we successfully delivered an assessment to a very happy client!

Wow – that’s great! So what are the main benefits for the collaboration of skill sets?

Historically, wind resource and met ocean communities have evolved quite separately, with a slight disconnect and becoming quite siloed. Yet the underlying data sets and methodologies are quite similar.

It’s very unique to have the opportunity to learn each others skill sets. However we’re finding that to combine and have two expertise’s bouncing off each other, can only strengthen our offering and our team dynamic. We’re finding that our clients are recognising that it is a beneficial blend of skill sets.

Does it have much of an impact on the foundation design and other discipline areas?

We’re bringing other colleagues from Loads to help drive that, as it is such a unique offering and not something other consultancies do! It’s not just about the people in the team but taking the best of both parts – having the opportunity to develop optimum methodologies and approaches from both skill sets.

As an industry, it seems we have become a bit ‘stuck in old ways’ in some areas and methodologies, doing things because that seems to have become accepted as the norm and not necessarily backed by data and research. We’re looking to address that through some research to investigate this further which we’re very excited about!

Judging from your general enthusiasm, we may not need to ask this but is there anything particular that keeps you interested and motivated in your role?

It’s working on real life stuff! Knowing that you’re working on projects that are really going to make a difference. I’ve got two young children, so it’s important for me to look to the future and building a sustainable future is very important to me. It’s great to hear them say ‘My Mummy is helping build offshore wind farms!’

What are you most excited about the future of offshore wind?

The speed at which the industry is forecast to grow is phenomenal. Over the last few decades, offshore wind farm development has been focussed in Europe and has taken quite some time to get to the point we’re at now. However, we’re now seeing rapid expansion into new markets, from the USA to Asia, and it’s great to see our colleagues thriving in these exciting new markets. There are very different atmospheric and metocean conditions in these areas, so there are new challenges daily to ensure that we’re capturing the characteristics of these sites accurately.

Floating Lidar technology is also something quite close to my heart. Use of this technology in offshore wind measurement campaigns has really taken off in the last 5 years or so, supporting further growth of the offshore wind industry as a whole. As the tech grows and develops so quickly, it begins to outdate ‘current industry standards’.

The Carbon Trust Floating Lidar Technology Roadmap has been instrumental in the acceptance of this technology – and I was lucky enough to lead the latest update of this document in 2018. There is also now a new IEC standard in draft to cover the application of floating Lidar technology in wind measurement campaigns which I am also a part of which I find very rewarding – it’s a great feeling to be working with peers across the industry and contributing to current industry best practice! However, it’s also a little daunting as the evolution of the technologies and associated R&D is so fast, so it’s a bit of a moving target when it comes to capturing that in a standard!

Final question, what would you say is the highlight of your career?

There have been many! Definitely the Carbon Trust Roadmap is up there – I’m pretty proud of that! It was a year long project which I spent leading a consortium of 3 other industry experts. The opportunity meant that not only did I learn a great deal, it also allowed me to expand my network with peers in the industry which has been really rewarding. It’s also great to know that I have been able to contribute to industry best practice. Other highlights include having had the opportunity to present at several industry conferences, and, more recently, co-chairing a session at the WindEurope Electric City conference last year!

Aside from this, I would also say being able to work on some amazing offshore projects over the years too! Helping to design a zero-carbon future for all.

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