Women in hydro, and why more are needed: “Women and men don’t think the same way”

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Following CEC’s Women in Renewables Leaders’ Pledge, we spoke with the women who’ve done a lot of work in hydro this year.

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The Clean Energy Council announced its Women in Renewables Leaders’ Pledge last year and continues to empower gender diversity in the industry. With hydro in the spotlight in Australia this year, we spoke with three impressive women who’ve done a lot of work in that sector of renewable energy.

Tammy Chu, Managing Director, Entura (Top photo)
Hobart-headquartered Entura is a world-leading power and water consulting firm, and part of Hydro Tasmania, with more than a century of experience in the development, operation and maintenance of renewable energy and water infrastructure.

Pathway: “I grew up in Hobart, attended the University of Tasmania and joined Entura as a graduate civil engineer in 2000. I’ve been with the business for 18 years in a range of positions within Entura and the Hydro Tasmania group.

I’ve worked as a civil engineer, in project management, then I moved into business development management for hydropower and dams, building Entura’s international portfolio.

I was the Water and Environment Group Manager for Entura and became Managing Director in 2011. I was the first female president of the Tasmanian division of Engineers Australia, and I’m currently on the board of the International Hydropower Association [one of two women on a board of 12].”

Diversity:“Engineers Australia’s statistics indicate that only 13% of engineers in the workforce nationally are female, and in Tasmania only 8%. That’s pretty devastating in 2018.

Women bring different ways of thinking and different approaches to tasks, and creativity in engineering, too. But a problem is the confidence gap that females sometimes have in recognising our talents and capabilities.

I personally haven’t had any impediment due to gender. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had male champions along the way who’ve encouraged me. Even when I became Managing Director seven years ago, I wasn’t intending to apply until a senior executive told me to put myself forward.

Those mentors pointed out opportunities and encouraged me to take them — and that’s a huge help for people to realise their potential.”

Future:“To address the confidence gap, I think industry and academia need to be part of a push, starting in high school, to encourage young women into STEM.

We need to reach parents and teachers, to help build understanding of what engineering is about. I always enjoyed maths and science, and I like to see things being built, made, created … so engineering gave me a career path where I could make a contribution to the community. I recognise that as an engineer I can leave a lasting legacy and improve livelihoods and economic development.

My work has brought me huge opportunities to travel and to meet and work with people from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds — India, Nepal, Malaysia, Bhutan, right through to the Pacific.

And now there’s another great opportunity to contribute at home, with Entura providing a range of services for Tasmania’s Battery of the Nation initiative.

“There’s a global trend towards energy transformation through increased renewables. Already we’ve seen rapid expansion of wind and solar, and the next big growth area is energy storage to make those renewables ‘dispatchable’.  Over the next decade the industry will need many skilled people, and the possibilities for attracting women into the industry are endless.

We want to encourage women to be a part of this — they can really make a difference in projects that are going to decarbonise energy generation in Australia, and the world.”

Kate Summers, Manager Electrical Engineering, Pacific Hydro
Pacific Hydro Australia isa global renewable energy owner, operator and developer, headquartered in Melbourne. It operates more than 450MW of installed wind and hydro capacity across Australia, where its assets abate more than 1.2 million tonnes of greenhouse gas every year.

Pathway: “I joke that I had my retirement in my 20s, because I did outdoor education and travelled through the ’80s, and spent five years teaching alpine skiing.

When I was 28, I took myself back to do a bridging course in advanced mathematics and physics … I’d been educated in an all-girls school, and in the 1970s it was pretty much, ‘there, there, don’t worry, go to university and get married’.

But I wanted a degree with a career at the end of it, so I decided to do engineering — I’d never met a female engineer in Australia, it wasn’t something that women did then. In my third year at Swinburne [University of Technology], the dean recommended that I apply for a State Electricity Commission of Victoria scholarship, which took me straight out of my degree in 1994 into a job with the SECV.

In my first couple of weeks as an engineer, I was up in Snowy doing some generator testing when they were doing control upgrades … so I had a fantastic run into the industry. I’ve been with PacHydro since 2004.”

Diversity: “At the moment, there are more women working in wind and solar than hydro, although it depends which area we’re talking about in terms of jobs.

With pumped hydro, for example, there’s a lot of civil engineering involved, and you also need specialists who understand the hydrology of operating a generator at the base of a penstock, being the pipe that brings the water to the turbine. If you don’t design that properly, you give yourself technical problems in the power station.

All of the pumped hydro projects will be at least five-10 years in the planning, so there are opportunities for people to understand the engineering for the location … each location will be bespoke.

There’s opportunity there, it’s all about getting the specialist skills to jump into those roles. It’s complex operating a pumped-hydro system, and if you’re specialising in electrical engineering, electrical control is one of the more interesting parts of it.”

Future:“We’re limited in Australia in terms of developing more hydro from the point of view of damming rivers to make new power stations. We’re looking now at where there are pumped hydro opportunities — everyone has to keep their ears and eyes open as to what’s possible.”

 

Maryse Francois,  Hydro technology Technical Lead for GE Renewable Energy
GE Renewable Energy is a division of GE headquartered in Paris. It includes onshore and offshore wind, hydropower and pumped-hydro storage and other innovative technologies. It has more than 400 GW of installed capacity around the world.

Pathway: “I am a graduate of the École Polytechnique, a famous engineering school in France. I love my job because all the time it is different, all the time we are working to invent something, make things better.

Working in renewables we are connecting what we do in hydro with what we do in wind and so on. I work with customers in China, North America, Brazil and Australia … it’s very interesting to work with people all over the world.

As customer technical leader, I support the sales teams to establish and understand the specific needs of each customer and plan how to build complex projects. I am our technical expert for hydro storage, and I see it as very important technology for the world.”

Diversity: “I don’t have many women colleagues [in hydro-storage engineering]. We are lacking women in technology at all the levels, and to change that is one of our targets at GE. This is something we’re trying to do from the school level up, to show how interesting it is to be an engineer, and women, you can do it!

A mixed team of men and women is very powerful in terms of business, because women and men don’t think in exactly the same way. We have a program with schools and also a women’s network inside GE, and a French women’s network.

All of those organisations are working to ensure that we are able to encourage and promote more women to work in technology in particular. Men are willing to talk much more and women are much less inclined to do that, so we need to push in that direction. It is getting better but in my opinion it is too slow …”

Future: “Hydro is something new, everything is new … you can play a very important role in the world of today, specifically when you look at the pumped-hydro storage aspect. We have a huge opportunity to store energy and make energy generation completely renewable, which is so important. As an engineer, working in this kind of world is so interesting.”

This is the third in a five-part series on pumped hydro technology in Australia, sponsored by GE.

Please check out the first two articles, The role of pumped hydro in a 100 per cent renewable energy world, and Answers to Seven key questions about pumped hydro storage and also our special edition of the Energy Insiders podcast on pumped hydro here.

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