While spending months at a time deep underwater as a weapons engineer on a nuclear submarine might seem far removed from Colin Brown’s current role, the skills he developed in the British Royal Navy often still prove useful. In the confined environment of life at sea, being able to work effectively with others to find solutions to problems and issues is important – a lesson for life in fact.
As Aviation Manager for Vattenfall in the UK, Brown now has to navigate a successful path through often complex issues involving many different stakeholders such as government departments, the military and commercial organisations. “It is important to be able to look at things from other people’s perspectives in order to find the middle ground and a way forward,” explains Brown, who was responsible for all communication, electronic warfare and radar systems on S-Class submarines during his naval career.
While his negotiating skills are helpful, it was the technical expertise he developed during his time at sea which proved key in finding a new career when, after just under ten years’ service, he decided to leave the Royal Navy to spend more time with his young family.
“Much of my work in the Royal Navy was about making sure the submarine’s weapons system was available to carry out the operations it was tasked with – whether that was receiving firing signals or intelligence gathering. Although I didn’t have any knowledge of the renewable energy sector, there is a lot of crossover with the work the wind industry is involved in around radar and aviation,” says Brown, who is based at Vattenfall’s Scottish office in Edinburgh.
Wind farms have the potential to interfere with electromagnetic signals used for navigation and communication, including radar. There are also height limitations imposed on structures located close to airfields which need to be considered when planning new projects. “Aviation issues are among the largest and potentially most expensive that wind farm developers face in new projects,” Brown points out.
When it comes to finding better ways of dealing with potential issues, the UK is seen as being at the cutting edge of progress across the wider wind industry. “The UK has particular challenges as a densely populated and relatively small, narrow country,” he explains. “All the aviation infrastructure here other than military is also commercial rather than nationalised and, with a significant number of UK airfields, there are also many different stakeholders involved.”
Brown spends a lot of his time working with industry bodies and Government departments looking at high-level issues. The remainder is spent on individual Vattenfall onshore and offshore projects. “It is important to engage as early as possible with stakeholders to discuss projects before any detailed planning applications are submitted,” Brown says. “We can then look at potential mitigation in terms of things like altering the layout of a project, screening or paying to install new radar equipment at airfields.”
The UK team is involved in a number of ground-breaking developments in the field including the installation of the world’s first ever permanent installation of a fully wind farm-capable radar system which will enable construction of the 17-turbine Kentish Flats offshore wind farm extension.
Earlier this year, Vattenfall and fellow wind developer SSE also signed a ground-breaking agreement with the UK’s air traffic services company NATS to fund radar modification work. Under this project, electronics firm Raytheon has developed a modification to its radar systems that will mitigate interference from turbines in the vast majority of cases and will unlock up to 2.2 GW of potential new wind energy across the UK.
While much work is underway to ensure new wind farm developments do not affect aviation systems, in the longer term the industry is hoping that technological advances means it will become less of an issue.
“Radar systems in the future will probably not be the big rotating, mechanical dishes people are used to seeing but based much more on antennas which pick up signals from many different locations,” explains Brown. “But that is some years off, and with the growth of renewable energy and aviation both seen as priorities for the UK economy, it is important we work together to find solutions to make sure they co-exist safely.”