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BLOG: An intern's view of renewable energy

Posted on 03/09/2018 by Nick Sharpe

Heriot-Watt University Geography student Lia Wood joined the Scottish Renewables team for a two-month internship this summer.

In this blog she talks about how our work has given her degree new relevance – and some surprises that caught her unawares along the way.


Geography students have always struggled to find direct, practical applications for their degrees.

But in renewables, I think I’ve finally found a natural fit.

Before I started my internship at Scottish Renewables in July I had no idea that so many of the subjects I was studying on my university course were so relevant to the renewables industry.

And while it took me a while to even start to understand how the energy system works, I soon began to realise that much of the work I do day to day impacts on the way the energy system operates.

There was, of course, much to learn.

Something else that I didn’t really think about before coming to SR was how much actually goes on ‘behind the scenes’ in the energy sector - and indeed how much this actually does affect the public on a day-to-day basis.

Like most people, the link between wind farms, solar panels and hydro dams and the light switch in my living room just isn’t one I’d ever been forced to make.

I’d never thought, for instance, about the electricity grid (what it does, why it’s there and how it works), or that you could run out of space to put energy. Although it is a really technical subject, it’s something I would like to learn more about.

Even the existence of some renewables technologies was new to me.

For example, I didn’t know that floating wind existed and was so excited when I heard about it – then I realised a few weeks in that it wasn’t as new as I thought.

The idea that we could soon be using electric vehicles as portable electricity storage was also a surprise to me. I just didn’t know this was possible, and I didn’t realise how much of a popular topic electric vehicles were either.

I noticed in my time at Scottish Renewables that it’s very likely members would talk about EVs and the opportunities and challenges they present at some point in any meeting – no matter what the topic.

I was also unaware of how much influence politics has on the day-to-day operation of the energy system. Topics like planning, CfD and FiT aren’t things which are often made clear to the public, and many will not even know they exist.

I’m paying my way through university by working in McDonalds, so having an office job also provided lots of food for thought.

Working in the type of environment SR provides has been different from any job I’ve ever had, so it was nice to just gain a bit of experience in an office environment.

At Scottish Renewables I had the chance to work in different departments, finding out what they actually do and how that affects the success of the organisation as a whole.

The internship allowed me to see what the Communications and Policy departments do, why the Business Services Team is so important, and the full extent of what’s involved in a job in the Events team.

It was good to see how all these separate parts and people work together, and even the massive workload that each of them has.

I also didn’t realise how involved CEOs were in companies. To me, Chief Executives were always just important people who took no interest in the day-to-day running of their business and didn’t show their faces to anyone.

Being at Scottish Renewables I have seen that this is not the case – for the renewables sector at least – as nearly every meeting I have been to has been full of CEOs from lots of companies who are very involved in everything that’s going on.

I really enjoyed my internship, and it’s made me more excited about my final year at university, which starts this month.

The experiences I’ve had at Scottish Renewables – including a visit to Cruachan pumped storage hydro power station and Whitelee Windfarm - and has really influenced the subjects I have chosen for this semester.

I’m even now rethinking my dissertation topic, on as it was previously nothing to do with renewables – and now I know there are jobs in renewables for people like me I’m hoping that it could be.

Lia’s internship was arranged and funded by the Robertson Trust, Scotland’s largest independent charitable funder, which also offers a bursary programme for high-achieving young Scots who have the ability, but not necessarily the means, to get the most out of a university education.

Scottish Renewables Chief Executive Claire Mack said:

“Lia’s placement was a first for us as an organisation. We were determined to ensure her time with us was as valuable as possible: from meeting stakeholders and members to writing press releases and helping to organise our packed events programme, everything Lia did at Scottish Renewables fed directly into our work.

“Her involvement has been hugely positive for the team and the internship is certainly something we’ll be recommending to our 260 member companies, and more widely, in future.”

Nick Sharpe

Director of Communications