As Vattenfall embarked on the development of two large wind farm projects located 60km off the coast of Norfolk, we sought to undertake the highest quality engagement with those who potentially had a stake in this Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, and with additional focus on engaging young people or those in education with an interest in technology and renewables. We wanted to combine skills, education, technology and innovation : the 3D VR wind farm design programme was the result.
In collaboration with 3D model developers and programme partners 3DW, Vattenfall's wind farm design programme was designed to give an authentic taste of wind farm development process while also meeting the specific educational needs of 14-19 year old students. The initial pilot programme was delivered over 2 weeks to 180 students in 8 Norfolk schools and colleges in late 2017 and was rolled out at university level in 2018.
The programme itself is a simulation of the wind farm design process and although it is simplified, it features many realistic technical considerations and constraints which enable students to assess and identify solutions for authentic problems while simultaneously gaining insight into the real choices that wind farm developers must make, and the type of work the Norfolk project team undertakes from day to day.
The aim was to give students an engaging, balanced and educationally valuable insight into the complexity of wind farm development, and to offer context to the vast amounts of information presented to local communities as part of offshore wind engagement and consultation activities. Through participation in the programme students would develop employability skills such as leadership, collaboration and problem-solving, gain an understanding of how technology is used in this innovative, constantly evolving industry, and gain an appreciation of the diverse range of jobs and careers available in offshore wind.
Feedback from the students was extremely positive with 92% agreeing and strongly agreeing that the programme helped them develop leadership and team work skills. 92% strongly agreed they had better appreciation for job roles and career opportunities within the wind industry, and 96% agreed or strongly agreed that they had good understanding of environmental and design factors involved in developing a wind farm.
In 2018 further refinement to the programme and a new 'train the trainer' approach led to collaboration with University of East Anglia's renewable energy students, many of whom are now actively teaching the programme to their own peers and to other students at local technical colleges. They have also supported the Vattenfall team at several consultation events.