You completed a Bachelor of Engineering (Renewable Energy) at UNSW Sydney, what interested you in pursuing this degree?

I can clearly remember being in Year 8 and learning about the greenhouse gas effect. My science teacher explained that our existing electricity generators, being mainly coal, pump out millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide that is irreversibly changing the planet and our lives. I learned that every time I switched on a light, ran my oven, washed my clothes or charged my phone, I was adding extra demand to the power system that meant more greenhouse gases were being pumped out. More greenhouse gases meant all of these awful changes to the planet and all the people that live on it. I was horrified. I knew from then that I wanted to be part of the solution for our energy transition, working to facilitate the change the energy system is undergoing.

Although I had this clear desire for working to mitigate climate change, I had very little idea on how to pick a degree that would translate to a career in climate action. No one in my family had studied at university before me, so I didn't know how to transfer my passion for maths and physics into a degree. However, in Year 12 a female engineer working at Sydney Trains came and spoke to our Physics class and my eyes were opened. I loved how she spoke about working on site and in an office, working to calculate rollback potential of trains, being able to work in cities all over the world, collaborating with people. But most of all, she explained how her job as an engineer required her to put people first. Human centered design means putting people at the centre of your problem solving. Framing engineering this way made me realise how important it was for society, and how I could combine my natural affinity for maths and science into a career of people centred problem solving.

Not knowing much about the different types of engineering meant that I started my degree as a Flexi First Year student, however I always had my sights on Renewable Energy Engineering and selected that as my engineering stream in my second semester.  

What kinds of subjects did you study at uni?

In first year, I studied the basic subjects that most first year engineers’ study: maths, physics, computing, basic electrical and materials engineering. From second year onwards, you really get to 'specialise' in renewable energy subjects. My favourite subjects included: second year project where we manufactured our own solar panel and inverter that charged a battery; sustainable energy in developing countries, where we designed a solar powered community fridge for a remote Fijian community (I even got to visit the community!); renewable energy policy, where we learned about how the energy transition occurs at the policy level; wind energy converters, where we designed our own (fictional) wind farm. 

I also participated in student exchange at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) in Copenhagen, where I got to learn how Denmark is tackling their own renewable energy transition in a very different way to Australia. Being able to study abroad was an amazing experience which I highly recommend!

I completed two rounds of Industrial Training. My first gig was at Hydro Tasmania in Hobart, where I learned about hydro-electric power, the oldest renewable energy technology, and how the power system works. I also got to work at Global Sustainable Energy Solutions (GSES) where I worked to train electricians and engineers in how to safely design and install rooftop solar systems.

You are currently working as an Engineer at Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). Can you tell us a bit about what you do in your role?

AEMO has many roles across Australia’s energy sector, including operating the power system to provide secure, reliable and affordable energy for homes and businesses. I’m part of AEMO’s Operational Distributed Energy Resource Management team, working to solve power-system challenges caused by rooftop solar, household batteries and other distributed energy resources.

It’s an exciting role, because Australia has the highest per capita rate of rooftop solar in the world, which means we’re trying to solve world-first issues and build a grid to operate at 100 per cent renewables. In my role, I also get to work closely with lots of different people across the industry, all collaborating to manage the integration of consumers’ energy devices into the grid.

I find my role extremely rewarding because I get to apply the principles of engineering that I learnt at university to new and exciting challenges that align with my personal values.

What jobs are available in the renewable energy sector?

The energy sector is growing at a really rapid pace, and there are lots of different roles for renewable energy engineers. 

The AEMO graduate program, where I started, is a rotational program, involving rotations across the business where you learn and develop skills in many facets of the energy sector. There are also roles at other utilities, energy generation or electricity transmission and distribution companies, in the consulting sector, the design, construction and development sector, government and policy sector, start-ups, data science, and research and development. The energy transition is moving at a rapid pace, and there are plenty of roles available in every part of the industry.

What advice would you give to high school girls interested in renewable energy engineering?

My advice would be to take it one step at a time and pick a degree you are curious about. Curiosity will be your driving force throughout university and your career, and if you're at all interested in the complex renewable energy sector then I can guarantee that by studying renewable energy engineering you will learn things that will satisfy your curiosity and fuel it simultaneously. 

For more information about studying renewable energy engineering at UNSW Sydney visit the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering.