Career profile: Dr Conaill Soraghan

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Dr Conaill Soraghan, who leads the Operations & Maintenance Data Systems team at the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, describes his career trajectory.

  • ‘Graduate’ of UK research and innovation ecosystem, and former EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training student
  • EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training provides world-class training, facilities and network of academic experts
  • Progressed to team leadership at innovation-focused Catapult Centre 
  • Has a particular interest in the digital transformation and the application of information systems and data science techniques to enhance wind farm operation and maintenance 

Following an undergraduate degree in mathematics at the University of St Andrews and a Masters in Applied Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, I studied for a PhD at the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Wind Energy Systems at the University of Strathclyde.

The first year of the course, a taught Masters in Renewable Energy Systems, was ideal for someone like me with a background outside engineering. It gave me a detailed introduction to all aspects of wind energy systems, from electricity generation and wind turbine technology to the politics and economics of renewable energy systems.

EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) have a strong focus on nurturing well-rounded and professional scientists and engineers. In addition to providing me with technical know-how and the confidence to apply it, the CDT enabled me to work collaboratively in world-class research facilities and develop a network of experts in the field. It gave me the confidence to engage with a wide range of stakeholders from the renewable sector, as well as develop transferable skills which have helped me become a key facilitator and influencer in priority projects.

As part of my research into aerodynamics and control of innovative wind turbines, I developed software to predict the performance of novel wind energy systems. Keen to further my work in this field, after completing my PhD I successfully applied for the post of Renewable Technology Engineer at the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, which is funded by Innovate UK, the government’s business investment arm.

The ORE Catapult is an innovation centre – we are tasked with creating and appraising new ideas and methods with a focus on real-world commercial impact. I now lead the ORE Catapult’s Operations and Maintenance Data Systems team and am technical lead for the world’s first offshore wind benchmarking platform, SPARTA.

SPARTA focuses on the application of information systems and data science techniques and has created a database and web system for collecting and benchmarking performance of operational offshore wind farms.

Over 75 per cent of the installed capacity of offshore wind farms in UK waters is already providing data into SPARTA, which will improve wind turbine operational performance by increasing safety, reliability and availability, thereby cutting the cost of electricity generated from offshore wind.

I’m also involved in the design and delivery of an Operations and Maintenance (O&M) business intelligence tool for the tidal sector, and publishing O&M best practice case studies based on interviews with the Catapult’s industry partners.

After three years in the engineering directorate at the ORE Catapult I was promoted to Team Leader for O&M Data Systems. Our team goal is to support the renewables industry, realise a successful digital transformation and extract the full potential from digital technology, data and information. Our work involves the application of cutting-edge digital approaches including machine learning, process mining and modern architectures to operational data from the offshore renewables industry.

In addition to managing and developing a team of data specialists and engineers, I have a multifaceted role. This includes project creation; technical engineering support; due diligence of technology innovation concepts; and business development.

I am proud to be part of a connected UK research and innovation ecosystem, which has provided me with a career path leading from a maths degree and Masters through to an engineering PhD and a rewarding career as a leader in the dynamic renewables industry I am passionate about.

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EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs)

There are 115 EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) in 33 UK universities, training 8,500 postgraduate students. It is the UK’s largest-ever investment in postgraduate training in engineering and physical sciences.

CDTs bring together diverse areas of expertise to train engineers and scientists with the skills, knowledge and confidence to tackle today’s evolving issues, and future challenges. They also provide a supportive and exciting environment for students, create new working cultures, build relationships between teams in universities and forge lasting links with industry.

Students are funded for four years, and programmes include technical and transferrable skills training as well as a research element. Many CDTs leverage additional studentships from other sources, such as university funding, EU funding, industrial funding and private funding.

Catapult Centres

Catapults are technology and innovation centres funded by Innovate UK where the best of UK businesses, scientists and engineers can work together on research and development.

Catapults use the power of people and organisations working together. These partnerships create new opportunities, reduce innovation risk, and help take new products and services to market.

The Catapults work closely with a range of academic and industrial partners, and have close relationships with EPSRC Manufacturing Hubs, with the aim of transforming ideas into new products and services to generate economic growth.

To date 11 Catapults have been launched, ranging from centres devoted to developing cell therapy technologies to high value manufacturing and satellite applications.

The ORE Catapult recently signed a five-year research and development agreement with GE Renewable Energy to advance offshore wind technologies in the UK. As part of the agreement, next-generation offshore wind turbines will be tested at the Catapult’s facilities while collaborative activities will encompass cooling technologies, converters, grid testing and design validation.