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Hugh Sangster - Renewable Energy Engineer, Renewable Energy Systems

Hugh Sangster
'When I was younger, my family went bushwalking a lot which developed my appreciation for the environment. I wanted to do engineering as well, and I've since qualified with a renewable energy engineering degree. I'm involved in monitoring wind power turbines.'

Hugh, 23, works as an engineer for Renewable Energy Systems (RES). The group is a world leading renewable energy developer that focuses on the development of wind power as a renewable energy source.

According to the Clean Energy Council, there are currently 42 wind farms in operation all over Australia with a total of 817 megawatts generating around 2500 gigawatt hours of electricity annually.

What does being a renewable energy engineer involve?

I'm involved in monitoring wind power turbines. We have monitoring masts to record wind speed and direction. We need to know wind speeds to determine how much electricity to produce for wind farms. We do this by using modeling software, developed in house, which produces energy yields (how much electricity is produced) over the lifetime of the project. We use the energy yields to make an economic case for a project. I am responsible, in conjunction with my colleagues, for overseeing all wind data capture and analysis. There are a number of other industry specific assessments that are required for the consenting process and I also assist with these. We have 11 people currently working out of our Australasian offices with currently over 350 globally.

I also create photo montages where I overlay what the wind farm will look like onto a photo. We might have a panorama from a prominent location, such as a lookout, and, using software, we overlay wind power turbines onto the panorama.

Where does wind power energy go?

In Australia, we have the National Electricity Market (NEM) that supplies energy to consumers. And every generator – wind, coal or solar energy – feeds into the NEM.

In New South Wales, coal contributes more than 90 per cent of the energy to the NEM, while wind power contributes less than 1 per cent.

Does wind power energy have the potential to increase its percentage in the NEM?

Yes. The potential for wind power generation to increase relies on government policy. We need government support for wind power to supply more energy. Renewable energy is more expensive than conventional forms of energy, such as coal or gas, but there is an international trend towards using renewable energy, and state and federal governments here in Australia are following that trend. In Australia we are looking for 20 per cent of our electricity to be produced from renewable power by 2020.

Why did you choose a career in renewable energy engineering?

When I was younger, my family went bushwalking a lot which developed my appreciation for the environment. Before I began university I wanted to do something to help the environment. I wanted to do engineering as well, and I've since qualified with a renewable energy engineering degree.

What is the future of renewable energy engineering?

Four years ago, when I started my degree, it looked like the renewable industry field would explode. Federal policy effectively – though not exclusively – stopped that. So over the last four years nothing much has happened in the renewable energy industry. However, since the change of government following the 2007 federal election, renewable energy initiatives have taken off again, which is perfect timing for me now I've graduated.

What are the best aspects of being a renewable energy engineer?

At times I feel like I'm making a difference to society. Like any job, sometimes it feels like I'm hitting a brick wall, but most of the time it's very rewarding.

What is the worst aspect of being a renewable energy engineer?

I live on the other side of the city to where the office is, so I spend three hours travelling each day.

Where do you want to go with your career in engineering?

In the short term, I want to expand my knowledge of the technical aspect of wind farms. I'm being trained in London at RES's head office right now. The RES guys in Australia want me to become the expert in noise assessment of wind turbines.

To build a wind farm a noise assessment application needs to be completed. The application assesses the potential noise impact of the wind farm or turbine around where people live. The people at RES's head office are taking me through the whole process, from the fieldwork required, modelling with software, and, after the wind farm is installed, the monitoring that's involved.

In the long term, I'll see how I enjoy the next couple of years. I'm sure I'll stay in the renewable engineering industry.

What attributes do you need to be an engineer?

Anyone can be an engineer if they want. You have to be committed, passionate and have a knack for problem solving.

What is a typical day like out on a field visit?

We usually travel to a rural area to a wind monitoring mast. We travel out to the wind power farms nice and early with our sunscreen and hats, or raincoats. Usually it's quite isolated so we've got to look after ourselves.

How did you get the job as a renewable energy engineer?

As part of my engineering degree I had to complete industrial training (IT). In my third year I contacted a list of companies I wanted to do IT with. RES was one of them. They told me they didn't have much work available, but there was the opportunity to complete my fourth year thesis with them.

I did my IT elsewhere and then in my fourth and final year I completed my thesis on a wind farm site selection project with RES. After my thesis they took me on as a full-time engineer.

What advice would you give an engineer who is about to start out in the industry?

Make sure you know exactly where you want to work first. Don't take a job just because you're offered it. Look wide and far, approach people and be confident. I think you need to know in your mind exactly what you want before you look for a job. For me, it is important that you don't necessarily accept the first job offer. It is also really important to do some research into how much you are worth.

How do engineer graduates go about getting a job?

I think it varies depending on the type of company you're approaching. If you're approaching a larger company they usually have graduate recruitment programs. A lot of electrical engineers find jobs through graduate recruitment. But because renewable energy is such a small industry in engineering, there aren't that many jobs out there, so you've got to just approach companies by sending out a resume and a cover letter and following up with phone calls as necessary.

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