With their particular problem-solving skills, engineers have the ability to help meet many of the challenges of transitioning to a clean economy.
Caitlin Nicholas is a young engineer with an electrifying career.
As a Senior Forecasting Systems Analyst with Energex and Ergon Energy, as part of Energy Queensland, Caitlin creates models that help the power system make the most of rooftop solar electricity. And working in Queensland – an area with some of the greatest uptake of rooftop solar in the world – these models can have big impacts.
After finishing a double degree in engineering and maths, Caitlin moved through several graduate roles within Queensland’s electricity system, gaining experience that now sees her helping to deal with the impacts of storms, floods and other natural disasters on the electricity distribution network.
But like many of us, Caitlin didn’t know what she wanted to do when she finished school, and her first steps toward her current career were almost by chance.
“I’m lucky I found engineering,” Caitlin smiles. “Flicking through a career book, it just popped out, and that’s where I ended up.”
And where she’s ended up is not just helping the community through maximising the benefits of renewable energy. Caitlin also helps actively promote the huge opportunities for students interested in STEM subjects, with a particular passion for helping her industry become more diverse.
“Being women in STEM, we are a much smaller proportion of the industry,” she explains. “I think it’s really cool because we come in with a different perspective and a different way of solving problems.
“It’s really important that people who come from a different background or don’t have connections into the energy industry start to hear more about the exciting things we’re working on,” Caitlin continues.
“We’ve got these really tough challenges that we’ve never faced before, and it’s so important that we have different perspectives in order to solve them.”
“Particularly at the moment, our industry is going through such a massive transition, and being able to play a part in building up that future is really meaningful to me.”
Caitlin happily admits that her passion for her career has come about purely through exposure to it.
“I moved into an engineering and a maths degree, and through that I decided to try a range of different work experiences,” she says. “The opportunity came up to undertake an internship at Energex, and I thought, why not give it a go? Power’s pretty important.”
It didn’t take long before Caitlin was able to see the huge possibility and exciting changes she could be part of within the power sector.
“When I stepped in the door, I was really excited by the fact we had such a growth of solar panels on the network and that we were leading the world in this uptake of renewable energy. And I just wanted to be a part of it.”
So what does her work actually look like?
”We have so much information coming in and we want to be able to understand it, analyse it, and use it to our benefit,,” she says. “At the moment I’m working on a few different mathematical models. In my days there’s a lot of coding and programming, and discussion about building the logic of a model, and the features you need to input or what the output looks like, or the visualisations you provide.”
“You’re programming things, you’re talking to your teammates, you’re getting ideas of what they’ve done and you’re sharing ideas and collaborating in a very agile way.”
“For me personally, I’m really passionate about getting involved in not just the mathematical models, but what their impact is.”
“I’m part of the emergency response team, so if extreme weather occurs, I’m there using my information to safely and securely restore power, to ensure customers have the lights on.”
When you finished your degree, did you feel you had a lot of choice in what you could do with it?
One hundred per cent,” Caitlin answers. “I came out of uni feeling that engineers can do anything. They’re problem solvers, and those skills can be translated into any industry, into any problem, across whatever you like.”
“Later in life, if I decided I want to go help finance climate change projects, or I want to help create medical devices that are more sustainable, I can use the skills that I’ve got in engineering, maths and data science to completely switch the domain that I’m applying them.”
“But, I love the power industry. We are at the cutting edge. We’re seeing the impact of solar, we’re seeing energy efficiency improvements, we’re also seeing electrification taking off… there’s nothing else I’d want to be doing.”
Caitlin Nicholas is a Senior Forecasting Systems Analyst at Energex and Ergon Energy, as part of Energy Queensland. She holds a Bachelor of Engineering, Bachelor of Mathematics and Master in Science. She has participated in the Australian Power Institute’s POWERful Woman program and is currently undertaking a development opportunity in Germany at E.ON.