Engineering Australia's energy future
She once lit up the Auckland Harbor Bridge entirely with solar-powered batteries, but for SAGE’s latest energy recruit – Senior Project Manager Samantha Kali – there are many more career highlights.
From beginning her engineering career in South Africa, to working on numerous overseas projects where energy grids didn’t even exist, to now working on Australia’s largest renewable only Microgrid involving a large utility company connecting to the grid – Samantha continues to push new boundaries in her career, and in the wider energy space.
Now, as the energy sector rapidly transitions from a traditional model to distributed-based energy models – relying increasingly on new forms of energy generation such as solar – new opportunities are emerging for skilled engineers with energy experience (like Samantha).
We chatted with Samantha to learn more about the transformation of Australia’s energy sector and what it means for engineers / those wishing to enter this field.
- Can you describe your role at SAGE and what it involves?
As a Senior Project Manager in the energy space, my role is predominantly about design. I start a project from scratch, producing everything from conceptual to detailed designs. I design cabinets and cables, perform Factory Acceptance Testing (FAT) and commissioning, and select the best equipment for each job.
Working on groundbreaking energy projects that use non-traditional energy generation is the most exciting aspect. It brings a whole new set of complexities and challenges I can put my engineering mind towards!
- Why were you attracted to working at SAGE?
I moved to Australia for family reasons, but after meeting with SAGE I realised the company was delivering exciting projects in the energy space such as micro grids and behind-the-meter solutions. I am hoping to get into the programming space eventually.
- Energy is a relatively new space, and SAGE is working on some pioneering projects within this realm – does this make your role more exciting?
It certainly does. For me, once the technology is out there I get the opportunity to re-learn it from the ground up. Actually, engineering and designing equipment leads to huge innovation opportunities in this new space. As I like to say ‘when something goes wrong and you’re in the midst of it – that’s when you really learn the most’.
Energy Future: engineers discuss plans at the site of SAGE’s pioneering energy project:
the SA Water ‘Zero Cost Energy Future’ project, at Christies Beach
4.What does your day-to-day look like?
My day is quite busy! But it’s also very interesting. When I arrive at work I usually sit down with the project manager and run through things. Because our schedule is so tight there is no room for other jobs at the moment, so you have to start the day with planning for design work and lots of detail. I continue maintaining schedules every time something changes. I need to communicate with clients on a daily basis, particularly as the project is moving so fast – so this is essential. Collaborating with clients and other designers is key.
5.Your role is a bit different to that of a traditional engineering role given it requires an energy skill set – how did you find yourself working in such a niche and upcoming area, and what are some of the key skills you need to possess, to be successful?
My background is somewhat different to that of the usual engineering path. When you’re an engineer straight out of university, skills are very hard to apply. Because my first role was based at a power plant, I had to learn hands-on skills from scratch. I was put through engineering programs, and taught first about the plant before doing any work on it. The control systems were very old and they required a complete refurbishment. So, I was lucky in that I got an opportunity to learn the old systems and then the new systems. I was there during the control system upgrade so I was really in the right place at the right time.
Bridging the old and new technology went well, then I got even luckier when I shifted to a new division and had the opportunity to learn a new area again. Once I left South Africa I joined a New Zealand engineering consultancy where I was able to implement the ground experience I had already gained from working on the South African power plant. During this job, I worked on geothermal plants, hydroplants and water projects like desal. There was lots of international travel, especially to the Philippines and Indonesia where grids didn’t exist. I once got to light up the Auckland Harbour Bridge with batteries – that was definitely a career highlight for me!
In terms of my current role with SAGE, it requires detailed and conceptual design skills, plus commissioning experience and hands-on skills that allow you to work backwards through solving problems.
6. Which direction do you see the energy market heading towards?
I see the energy market changing considerably in the coming years. Houses are going to become their own energy hubs, while cars are going to be electric. Electricity companies are going to need to be increasingly forward-thinking amid an erratic energy market.
7. What is the most rewarding part of your job with SAGE?
I’m still quite new but it’s been really good and the best part is definitely the people. The role has given me some new perspectives. There is a huge variety of projects that people here work on. The work is challenging and I’ve been able to dive straight in which has been great.
8. Advice to others looking to join the company?
Do it! Looking to where SAGE is going, it’s growing so quickly and there are always new industries SAGE is heading into. There is quite a bit of work, especially given the control systems we’re delivering are so ‘leading edge’ – so employees need to know the latest of what they can and can’t do.