Energy System in


Tim Lewis

Dr Philip Howes

The most striking thing was John Massey’s sheer depth of knowledge about energy and that he had so much information at his fingertips. There’s no substitution for that. No matter what question that came up, he could absorb it, give an insightful answer and keep the course on track. As a teacher and an academic, I know how hard that is!

Verified by an engineer

Dr Philip Howes is a Lecturer in Engineering at the University of Sussex. Prior to this, he was a Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at London South Bank University. “I’m actually not a mechanical engineer by training; my degree was in physics at King’s College London. I followed that with a PhD in the synthesis of semiconducting nanoparticles,” Philip explains. “Since then, my research has taken me into the synthesis of nanomaterials using automated microfluidic reactor systems. It’s an exciting, multidisciplinary area that is at the interface of chemistry, physics, chemical engineering, electrical and electronic engineering, informatics, data science and mechanical engineering. I am fortunate to be able to continue the diverse research activities that I love, whilst also fulfilling my desire of working in mechanical engineering.”

“Mechanical engineering has such a rich history and it’s had an amazing impact on society. Going forward, the focus of mechanical engineering is going to evolve significantly, continually bringing in developments in other areas of science and informatics – such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data and so on. To serve our students and set them up for a career, it’s necessary to respect and carry on the traditions of mechanics and engineering, whilst simultaneously adapting mechanical engineering training for the workplace that the students will go into. It will be complex but also very exciting.”


Why the Energy System in Transition course?

Dr Philip Howes teaches fluid mechanics and thermodynamics. He explains “In lectures, I talk about wind turbines, steam power plants, heating and cooling and so on, and the theory behind them. This IMechE course was not just theory. A big part of it was the history of various key energy technologies and the implications for the future. It is so useful to me – and so my students – to have that professional insight and in-depth knowledge around the issues surrounding the energy sector and moving towards net zero.”

“I sometimes wish that when I was 17, someone had said to me instead of taking a physics degree, maybe look at mechanical engineering. But when I was at school, we didn’t have such advice. In my career, I have always had this soft spot for mechanical engineering. It’s why I am interested in the IMechE and its courses. I would like to work towards having professional recognition within the engineering field to show I have done some extra learning and study. It’s partly professional but mostly personal. It’s something I want to do.”

What was your experience of the course?

“This course is quite broad and covers many areas and technologies. There was some initial introduction to the fundamentals, but it was mostly about the proliferation and application of different technologies. Over the course of two days, we were able to talk in a lot of depth about them. That was really useful for me because I could relate it to my experience, my teaching, and my research work.”

“The trainer, John Massey, was absolutely excellent. He created a course that was very well thought out and planned, but he was also very flexible. The most striking thing was John’s sheer depth of knowledge about energy and that he had so much information at his fingertips. There’s no substitution for that. No matter what question that came up, he could absorb it, give an insightful answer and keep the course on track. As a teacher and an academic, I know how hard that is!”

He discussed the benefit of having a small group on the course, which gave a very conversational dynamic. With so many different backgrounds and different stages of their careers, everyone was able to bring something different.

“What became clear during the course was the engineering reality of energy transition. There are immense challenges ahead. Hydrogen is a good example. The headline news claims that hydrogen can replace natural gas, it can be used in cars and so on. The course drilled down into the reality and there are significant issues that will not be solved easily. There are big problems that may mean hydrogen will never proliferate as a technology.”

“We also looked at electrification, renewable energy, emissions, the knock-on effects and more. We examined the primary and secondary issues, with accompanying graphs of the past, present and future. It all underlined how energy supply is a global system. It was eye-opening but also quite inspirational to understand that, despite the issues, there are a lot of things that can be done.”

“John was neutral about what might be the best path and realist in his approach. He conveyed the facts but let them speak for themselves. I came away feeling there’s no magic answer and there’s no one technology that we should be backing. It was a really good portrayal of the situation we’re in.”

What are the key reasons someone should attend Energy System in Transition?

1 “It’s got a good balance of breadth and depth. So, it’s suitable both for people moving into the field of energy transition or those who are already there.”

2 “The course is a great networking opportunity. You meet people who have similar interests and similar visions of impact in the world but who come from different backgrounds, both personally and professionally.”

3 “This course is very, very up to date with what is happening in energy. It gave me a real feeling of contemporary understanding and knowledge. I feel I know where we are, where we want to go and how we might get there.”

What’s been the impact?

“For people like me who spend a lot of time doing research on nitty, gritty problems, it really helps to zoom out and consider my work in the context of global challenges. That was a really important aspect of the course for me.”

Part of his research touches on developing new nanomaterials and their applications in next generation photovoltaics. Understanding the broader picture of how such tech fits into energy transition he explains was very useful.

“In the wider context, when we are talking about energy transition, we can’t get away from the fact that there are still a lot of moving parts in almost all technologies – and that is mechanical engineering. It’s important to see where our sector sits in energy transition and how our discipline needs to evolve.

“Having taken the course, I am able to give a much improved global and current context of the energy sector to my students. For example, we discussed cyber technologies used within the energy sector. I now feel I am equipped with a lot of contemporary information about those technologies and can talk with confidence about their potential and the possible pitfalls.”

Three pieces of advice you’d give future attendees

1. “The course is very open-minded and impartial. If you can be the same, you will get more out of it.”

2. “Listen, think and digest all of the information you will receive rather look for it to confirm or conform with what your industry thinks.”

3. “When we are talking about energy transition, we can’t get away from the fact that a lot of it is based on mechanical engineering. Consider how your engineering responsibilities might crossover with energy transition.”

What’s next?

“I see my future in academia but, that said, the industry-facing work is very important to me. We are addressing real issues and we are exploring avenues where we can achieve real impact. We can’t do that in a bubble – engagement with industry and bodies like the IMechE is absolutely crucial.”

Energy System in Transition

  • Duration:
    2 days
  • Location
  • CPD Hours:
  • UK-Spec:
    E, B, A