Civil engineering our future

I was up early to attend a breakfast meeting in Kegworth today.  This meant cycling into town to catch the Skylink bus which dropped me a couple of hundred yards from the venue at IGEM House.  I don’t know whether this meeting was typical, but if it was it appears that the Institution of Civil Engineers is short of women, and anyone under the age of about 40… 

The speaker was Geoff French their Vice President, talking about “Living with Zero Domestic Growth”.  He approached the topic from a different direction than I had expected, which was refreshing.  The underlying theme was the importance of economic vibracy for civil engineering firms to thrive, but the main content was considering the UK economy in the worldwide context.  Concluding slides indicated that successful UK civil engineering companies are now those which are increasingly engaging in international projects.

Questions from the audience were wide-ranging and resulted in some interesting observations.  One of these was a reference to the numbers of engineers – and specifically civil engineers – in different countries’ political leaderships.  Apparently China scores highest on this count, interpreted here as appreciating the importance of good infrastructure to enable economic activity/growth.   In response, I encouraged people to get involved in politics by contacting whichever political party they felt closest to!

Other questions/points included questioning whether low/zero growth meant a more sustainable economy, and raising the vision of more civil engineering opportunities from a move away from fossil fuel reliance.

The Longbridge Weir turbine getting closer to completion.  Note the high downstream water level.

The Longbridge Weir turbine getting closer to completion. Note the high downstream water level.

With these thoughts in mind, when I returned to Derby, I checked out progress on the river turbine.  It will be relatively small civil (and mechanical) engineering projects like this that should be thriving as fossil fuel prices rise.  Large wind turbines – on land or sea – also incorporate civil engineering – and tidal barrages and the like even more.

Looking at the river, after yesterday’s heavy rain, it was high, but not in flood.  When it does flood, people are often surprised to know that it is the five arches railway

The Five Arches Bridge restricts the water flow down the River Derwent, which can be a problem in flood conditions.

The Five Arches Bridge restricts the water flow down the River Derwent, which can be a problem in flood conditions.

 bridge (just north of Derby station) that is the key restriction in this area (according to the Environment Agency).  Water backs up through here, raising the water level all the way up to the Longbridge Weir by the Council House where the turbine is, and sometimes even further.  As the height difference across this weir reduces, the turbine output falls.  If the weir becomes completely submerged upstream properties in areas like Chester Green become at risk of flooding.

The Sustrans riverside path goes under the Five Arches Bridge.  When will this arch again be needed for floodwater?

The Sustrans riverside path goes under the Five Arches Bridge. When will this arch again be needed for floodwater?

If climate change results in more heavy storms and increased flood risk, I can see the case for opening up the side arches of the five arches bridge.  This would mean rerouting the Sustrans path, but could mean higher power output from the turbine, as well as reducing the flood risk.  I reckon this could happen in the next 20 years…

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494 Responses to Civil engineering our future

  1. Pingback: River Derwent Longbridge turbine coming on stream | Lucy Care

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