The world is facing some massive challenges: an ever growing population, global warming, water security, food production and the depletion of fossil fuels, to name but a few, all of which require the development of new technologies if they are to be successfully managed.
At the heart of solving these challenges will be engineers, and since the introduction of all new technologies requires power, input from electrical engineers will be particularly required.
One of the most pressing needs with which they will be engaged, is finding new ways to generate power to allow us to move away from the burning of fossil fuels, a major contributory factor to global warming. This is an increasingly urgent issue given the demands of industry in countries such as China and India, and the emergence of a ‘car culture’ among the newly prosperous there.
So, with wave, solar and wind power already pointing the way forward, tomorrow’s electrical engineers are likely to be tasked with developing new ways not only to make these systems even more efficient, but also to improve the long distance distribution of the power that is generated by them.
Alongside this will be the quest to develop technologies that aren’t dependent on any National Grid, but rather generate power at a much more local level, for instance by using hydrogen fuel cells. This would then allow smaller, remote communities and even individual properties to create their own power cost-effectively, without requiring an expensive electricity infrastructure to be in place.
At an even more innovative level, other technologies are likely to come to the fore, such as piezo-electricity, which uses mechanical stress to create electrical current from materials such as crystals and ceramics. Though yet to be fully explored, this conjures up the possibility that everyday activities, such as walking across the floor, will be used to generate power and so raises the environmentally-friendly prospect of shopping centres, pedestrian areas, offices and other public spaces becoming self-sufficient in terms of their own power.
But while many electrical engineering jobs will be focused on producing power, others will equally be looking at minimising the impact on the atmosphere of the CO2 that is still being released from burning fossil fuels. This is leading, for instance, to exciting new areas of research such as Carbon Capture Technology (CCT).
Of course, one of the areas where electric engineers are already involved and which is already beginning to touch upon the public’s consciousness are electric vehicles. But, while electric buses and cars are becoming increasingly common on our roads, there is still a need for electrical engineers to overcome some major obstacles, such as their still limited range and need for extended periods of recharging.
These are just a few of the many areas that will require the expertise of the engineer. But there will be many others, and with some private companies even looking to mine passing asteroids for minerals and resources, the future for electrical engineering jobs may even lie in the stars.