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Developing sustainable solutions to Defence energy problems

23 February 2022

3 minutes to read

Developing sustainable solutions to Defence energy problems

After beginning her career in the British Army Corps of Royal Engineers, Ashley Wilson has built on these foundation by obtaining MSs and beginning her PhD in University of Exeter’s Renewable Energy department.  Ash’s supervisors are Prof Peter Connor and Dr Bridget Woodman.

What is your background?

Originally a Politics graduate from Durham, I commissioned into the British Army, Corps of Royal Engineers in 2008 where I still serve. After years of believing I wasn’t a ‘real engineer’, I decided to undertake a post-graduate qualification to vindicate my imposter syndrome and enrolled in an MSc Energy with Heriot Watt University.

During this time, I discovered I was not a mechanical, electrical, or civil engineer, however I thoroughly enjoyed researching and proposing solutions to Defence energy problems. I was then selected to undertake the Battlefield Technology Course MSc with Cranfield University where it was clear I was also not a mathematical, weapons or IT engineer. However, I was very good at looking a complex problems, environments and people. So after only seven years of academic discovery, it transpires I could be a systems engineer!

Given my original experience and passion is rooted within Defence and renewables, my PhD research is centred on opportunities presented by the UK energy transition to a decentralised system for the Defence estate, in support of the wider Governmental Net Zero 2050 vision. I will be doing this through modelling decentralised energy systems with different technologies and routes to market for prioritised Ministry of Defence (MoD) sites, whose requirements are centred around resilience, carbon abatement and income generation.

What’s next for your research?

I’m currently doing the first level geospatial analysis of the Defence Estate, informed by wider Energy transition and Industry business trends. From here I will be selecting some strategic sites to begin the data assimilation and input for some of the critical vectors.

In the very near future, I also need to teach myself the fundamentals of Energy Systems Modelling, work out which software will help me achieve my aims and likely spend hours with my head in my hands wishing I’d just stuck to my day job…..and this is assuming I get upgraded to a bona fide PhD student by the end of my first academic year. Therefore, this is also a plea for any individuals who can make that journey a little less painful; I would be very grateful for your advice.

What are the best and worst things about your field of work?

I love the freedom and space that full time research has enabled me. It’s a huge privilege to be able to become an expert in my area whilst also having a secure job to go back to at the end. The period of study has also given me a much more positive work life balance that has made me happier than I have been for a long time. Despite constantly having to break away to do the school run, I feel that I’ve become more focussed and efficient. I also truly believe that the research I am doing will make a positive difference, given the MoD is relatively immature in its sustainable practices.

However, as a distance PGR, I can feel quite isolated. I really miss the human interaction and ability to bounce ideas off colleagues; my 4- & 5-years olds prefer Lego to systems modelling and the chickens are great listeners but not very constructive. I also tend to become very distracted by life or fixated on single issues, so I’ve had to project manage myself to death to ensure I don’t have to spend every night worrying about the stack of journals sat in Mendeley that I haven’t got around to. The main challenge I face is the constant uncertainty that comes with working for the leviathan



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