Isabella Notarpietro

Junior Energy Analyst at the International Energy Agency (IEA), Paris

Headshot of Isabella Notarpietro
You recently graduated with a dual Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering (with the University Medal and First Class Honours) and Arts (Environmental Humanities major) at UNSW, what initially sparked your interest in Chemical Engineering? 

I decided to pursue Chemical Engineering after hearing a podcast about how using green engineering principles, a chemical engineer had redesigned the process for producing paracetamol to drastically reduce the amount of waste produced and the energy required. Having always been passionate about climate issues and driven by a desire to make a difference, this experience opened my eyes up to the power of engineering to improve the sustainability of the goods and service which are essential to our lives.

Can you share any specific projects or research during your time at UNSW that were particularly meaningful in shaping your career path?

My capstone engineering design project had a big impact in shaping my career path. Throughout my studies, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in energy, but I was unsure about which field in particular: did I want to be a technical engineer helping companies design and implement renewable energy projects, go into academia to design the energy technologies of the future, or pursue a path in policy and analysis to equip decisionmakers with the information needed to catalyse the energy transition?

For the capstone project, we were tasked with designing a ‘Power-to-X’ facility to covert renewable electricity into a decarbonised fuel for export. At the conclusion of the project, we found that while the project was technologically feasible and environmentally sound, it was not yet economically viable. This project really demonstrated to me that the key barriers to advancing the energy transition are often not technological, but rather political, social and economic, motivating me to pursue a career in energy at an international organisation.

Can you tell us about your current role and what opportunities you believe exist for current students or recent graduates?

I currently work as a junior energy analyst at the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris, in a team responsible for tracking and analysing the socioeconomic aspects of the energy transition. I have a particular focus on the region of Africa and how the energy transition intersects with development objectives. I love my job as it enables me to work at the intersection of engineering and policy – some days, I’m deep in energy balances and leveraging my engineering skills, others I’m writing policy reports and very often I’m doing a mix of the two.

The energy sector is one of the fastest growing and most exciting industries for current students and recent graduates. My team publishes a report which looks at energy employment trends globally. Our latest report found that one of the key risks for the energy transition is a lack of high-skilled workers – many of whom are engineers. With Australia poised to be a global leader in the clean energy transition, the energy sector holds some very exiting opportunities for students and graduates.

How do people benefit from the work that you do?

The purpose of the IEA is to build a more secure and sustainable energy future for all. We do this through providing policy and decision makers with the data-driven and evidence-based analysis they need to advance the clean energy transition. For example, my team helps produce a yearly publication called the World Energy Outlook, which looks at the impact of different policy scenario on energy systems and the climate. This analysis provides policy and decision makers with information on where current policies are leading us and what must be done to put the world on a pathway aligned with global climate goals. The COP28 target of tripling renewable energy capacity and doubling the rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030, for example, came directly from this analysis.

Our work also has an impact on peoples’ everyday lives. My team works closely with governments in emerging markets and developing economies to assess how energy systems can be developed to support sustainable development outcomes. For example, I recently contributed to an Energy Transition Plan for Uganda, which charts a pathway for developing the country’s energy infrastructure in order to unlock economic growth, achieve universal energy access and foster industrialisation. This Plan will directly influence the country’s energy policies and thus the energy systems that people rely on everyday.

What are the biggest things you have learnt about yourself during your time studying at UNSW?

Two big learnings stand out from my time at UNSW. The first is that I’m very purpose driven. I was involved in a real range of things at university, from helping to set up the Engineering Faculty’s Young Women in Engineering Club to representing Australia at the Youth G20 Summit and volunteering with a bunch of clubs and societies. Looking back, I can see that the common thread throughout all of these activities was my passion for environmental and social issues and a strong desire to contribute to improving the world. Relatedly, the second big learning was the importance of aligning my “whats” - my studies and extra-curriculars - with my “why” - my life’s purpose and values. I think the reason I was able to be involved in so many activities at uni was because I always pursued activities which I believed in. This meant that even when I was taking a course I didn’t love or drowning in things to do, I was still driven to do them because I knew why I was.

Do you have any advice for current students or recent graduates?

Throw your hat in the ring. We’re very good at talking about peoples’ achievements but we often overlook the many failures and attempts that it takes to reach these. I applied to many things throughout university that I did not get selected for – from internships to roles in societies and everything in between. At the same time, many of the opportunities I had during my time at UNSW were for things that I thought I had no chance at getting – from my Co-op scholarship to internships in industry and even my current job at the IEA, which I almost didn’t apply for as I was certain I wasn’t going to get it. What I’ve realised, however, is that the only way to be certain you won’t get something is to not apply. This applies to professional opportunities but also to campus clubs and societies.

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