Simon Watson

23 JUNE 2017

Simon (S.J.) Watson.

Professor of Wind Energy Systems and Director of DUWIND at TU Delft.

Private life?
‘I was born and raised in Lincolnshire in the East Midlands region of England. My wife, Christiane, is from Switzerland. We met at a conference in Sweden, where she spoke about the application of a CFD model for predicting wind flow over the Jura Mountains, so we have similar interests. We got married in 2000 and have two boys: Leo (born in 2003) and Ben (born in 2006). We have a house near Leicester. Since June, I have lived in an apartment in the centre of Delft, but we are planning to move as a family to Wateringen at the beginning of August.’

As a boy, I wanted to be a scientist, but I didn’t know in what field. I studied physics, with a PhD in nuclear physics, at the Edinburgh University in conjunction with the former United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, working at the Harwell Laboratory near Oxford. I got a job at the neighbouring Rutherford Appleton Laboratory working in the Energy Research Unit (1990), where I was first introduced to wind energy. After eight and a half years I started working for a small start-up company in Chippenham that provided electricity to consumers from renewable sources. Since 2001, I’ve been working at Loughborough University. My main research areas included Condition Monitoring of Wind Turbines, Wind Resource Assessment, Wind Power Forecasting and Climate Change Impacts.’

What is your favourite hobby?
‘My main hobby is cycling – mountain biking and touring around - which is why I quite like the Netherlands. I also enjoy playing snooker, although I haven’t played it recently. I played quite a lot when I was younger. And I like walking as well. We try and visit Switzerland when we can, as a family, for walking and mountain biking in the Jura Mountains.’

Career high point?
‘In terms of research work: a recent project was looking at loading on wind farms from what’s called turbulence intensity - looking at predictions of turbulence in wind farms in large areas offshore. The outputs were valuable and useful in terms of how to interpret measurements and how to model the turbulence levels in wind farms in order to predict turbine lifetime. A second career high point was looking at the impact of climate change, in particular the impact of the hot summer on the UK. It had to do with one of my interests - looking at climate change and its impact on the electricity supply industry including its impact on wind power. For example, if the climate temperature increases what impact may it have on electricity consumption?’

Your greatest challenge at the moment?
‘One of the higher-level challenges regarding wind power is to reduce the costs of energy from wind/offshore wind. We see a tendency that wind farms on land are becoming less acceptable, particularly as their numbers have increased and they have become more visible. There’s a move to sites offshore and there are a lot of challenges associated with that: for example, making them reliable, making sure of constant access for maintenance, and attempting to minimise the number of maintenance visits. A lot has been done to cut costs, but there is still a lot to do. A second challenge concerns efficiency - trying to add more and more wind power to the system (because wind is variable as is the output of wind farms). Grid operators are increasingly expecting that wind farms will be able to provide certain services, such as frequency control, and ramping up and down, making them more like conventional power stations. Also, making the machines lighter, reducing their load and maximising their lifetime.’

Most enjoyable aspect of work?
‘The diverse range of very clever people from all around the world. That’s very important; we need that range of different people (different backgrounds, different cultures) in order to further develop research into wind energy. But also, working with people that have a shared will to try to advance an area that is good for the environment in terms of meeting our targets for reducing CO2 and mitigating climate change, and reducing pollution. In general, making the environment more pleasant to live in. So generally, people I’ve worked with, all through my career, have been people who have had a commitment to environmental causes. To me that’s very important. And I like working in this sector - not for profit, but philanthropically driven, because we believe in it.’

Why Delft?
‘A number of things. One of the big pulls is that TU Delft is a good and well-respected university, with an excellent wind energy research activity. The reputation and strength and depth here of research in wind power is very big. Besides that, Delft is a pretty town to live in and you can cycle easily. For me, who likes to cycle, that is a big advantage. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the UK’s attitude to various different things (Brexit, renewable sources) is a bit of a factor in moving abroad as well. Let’s say the opportunity came up just at the point I was getting dissatisfied, and I went for it!’

Best character trait?
‘I’m diplomatic and approachable. From what I hear, the Dutch are very more direct than the British, so it’ll be interesting to see how this fits in with Dutch national characteristics.’

Worst character trait?
‘Procrastination: putting things off. I sometimes have to fight that. Sometimes, when balancing a lot of spinning plates, I let one fall.’

Key issues on the political agenda?
‘Make sure that climate change is high up the political agenda, since it has a serious impact, particularly on the poorest parts of the world. We have a duty I think, particularly in the developed world, to do something about it. Also, even in the developed world, there are people who are struggling to pay their energy bills. We need to make sure that energy is affordable for them too.’

Source of inspiration?
‘To me, inspiration comes from the people around me, the people I’ve worked with in the past. A few key people have pushed me to go into a certain direction.’

Personal philosophy?
‘Do what is right. At least that has worked for me through many changes. For example, my move to Delft, it feels good. It was the right thing to do. Trust your instincts.’