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Careers in Power and Renewable energy resources

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

By Ramesh Rayudu, Senior Lecturer, School of Engineering and Computer Science, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

From electric vehicles to solar and wind power and micro-grids, the future of energy is renewable and it’s hard to think of a more rewarding field for a student to enter.

Ever-evolving and increasingly multi-disciplinary, it provides endless intellectual stimulation as you combine traditional electrical engineering skills with data mining and analysis, computer science, artificial intelligence, physics, mathematics and design.

Your research and the cutting-edge skills and knowledge you acquire will be in demand around the world, not only in the energy generation, transmission and distribution industries, but also in government bodies, not-for-profit organisations and energy retailers.

The students I teach at Victoria University of Wellington in the capital city of New Zealand often struggle to choose between job offers when they graduate.

Apart from being recruited as regular design engineers, their career prospects include in data and embedded systems, and in control, protection, policy and engineering management.

In their studies and subsequent jobs, they have the opportunity to make a real difference to the social and environmental wellbeing of the world, with an ultimate goal of carbon-free and sustainable living.

The advent of solar and wind generation is changing the nature of a typical power grid, as every house or building can now be a potential power station. Much of present research is on developing new technologies to handle emerging problems. Combined with this is research into other technologies such as electric vehicles and storage solutions.

At Victoria University, we are acutely aware of the importance of developing new smart power and renewable systems.

Victoria is the country’s officially ranked number one university for research quality and we have researchers throughout the university working on different aspects of climate change and its effects.

One, Professor Dave Frame, director of Victoria’s New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute, is part of an international team that recently launched a real-time global warming index that shows human-induced global warming is happening faster than ever and accelerating, leaving little time to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The index is a stark reminder of why smart power and renewable energy are front and centre of the research many of Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science staff and students are conducting, with the university recognised as a leader in the field.

‘Enhancing the resilience and sustainability of our natural heritage and capital’ is one of Victoria’s areas of academic focus and distinctiveness.

We were the first university in New Zealand to pledge to divest our investments in fossil fuels, the first to create such a high-ranking position as Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Sustainability) and the first to sign up to a new international initiative known as the University Commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

This is the background against which, in July, we established a Chair in Sustainable Energy Systems and in 2018 we are introducing new dedicated courses in renewable energy. We are also developing proposals for two new Bachelor’s degree programmes in renewable energy systems.

New Zealand as a whole is rich in renewable energy sources, some well realised, others yet to reach their potential: hydro, wind, solar, geothermal.

The country has around 40 percent of its domestic energy derived from renewable sources and 80 percent of its electricity generation, with robust targets as part of its Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy 2017-2022.

Recently launched at Victoria by the country’s Minister of Energy and Resources was a new Energy Research Strategy for New Zealand, produced by the National Energy Research Institute, a consortium of research providers (including Victoria) and other stakeholders in the energy sector that works to stimulate, promote, coordinate and support high quality energy research and education.

It is a huge advantage for me, my colleagues and our students to be in a country so committed to our research and its outcomes.

It is also an advantage to be in the New Zealand capital, with Victoria’s campuses situated among key scientific, research, government and business organisations—at the heart of where policy is set and innovation takes place.

This, combined with conferences and workshops at the university and in the city, means networking opportunities for students are plentiful.

Students are supported by academic staff from around the world who are leaders in their field, and intern with New Zealand companies and organisations. They are also involved in local and international research collaborations, including in India, Europe and the United States.

Some of our research projects are long term, lasting 10 or more years; others are implemented in response to specific industry requests and last one to three years.

If projects produce potential intellectual property for students, the university has a commercialisation office, Viclink, which can help them, including securing investors.

We also have a team providing comprehensive careers and employment support, including job expos.

The many projects we are currently undertaking include securing as much power as possible from the smallest motor we can design for an electric vehicle; home energy management systems; micro-grids for remote communities; and smart grids for smart cities.

The last two projects are in India and involve two of my PhD students who are from India. That’s two out of seven. A good proportion. But I would love to see more.

Bachelor’s students, Master’s students, PhD students—they all have a place in the quest for renewable energy solutions we are embarked on.

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