The energy sector is revolutionising to facilitate Net Zero emissions by 2050. With unprecedented changes come unprecedented opportunities. UK Power Networks Innovation Analyst, and Young Energy Professional of the Year winner, Carol Choi explains why there’s never been a more exciting time to be in the industry.
First of all, working in energy is fun
Six months after graduating, I was in the same room as the likes of Uber, Royal Mail, Centrica and Hitachi driving the discussion to build a compelling business case for the world’s largest commercial trial of electric vehicles. A year into the job, I was invited to give an hour long presentation on electric vehicles to over 100 IET members. Later that year, I delivered the UK’s first crowdsourced DNO Open Data page and set up our ‘Charge Challenge’ open innovation competition, challenging likeminded people to use other open data sources to predict the future of electric vehicle charge points. In doing so, we’re aiming to create an open culture of sharing with the end result of delivering new benefits for customers. By the end of 2020, I was bowled over to win both EI’s ‘Young Energy Professional of the Year’ award and ‘EV under 30 star’ at the inaugural EVIES awards.
As an Innovation Analyst, I spend most of my time at a computer crunching numbers, but what I enjoy most is presenting insight. At UK Power Networks I’m most well-known for my illuminating data visualisation maps. If a picture paints a thousand words, then so too can a map of electrified bus routes in London that demonstrates real benefits in air quality, or a heat map that shows where thousands more electric vehicle chargers can connect.
I also manage a varied portfolio of innovation projects that are delivering real world benefits for customers. I looked after a very technical project that tested the deterioration of overhead conductors and I also led a collaborative study with the gas network to understand the interplay between electricity and hydrogen. I’m also leading Skyline, a collaborative project to incentivise data sharing and improve the customer journey for electric vehicle owners.
Recently, I’ve also become a key member of an internal taskforce to drive forward the company’s business plan to facilitate Net Zero in the next regulatory price control period for the electricity networks, between 2023-2028.
I can’t talk about my work without mentioning the fantastic, diverse team I work with. In Innovation there’s almost a 50% split between men and women and our team originate from more than a dozen countries across the world. This means we have the best office snacks after a colleague returns from a home visit. I certainly didn’t expect my colleagues’ grandmothers’ homemade Greek dessert to be one of the things I’d miss most about the pre-pandemic world.
Reaching Net Zero will take an extraordinary technological, economic and societal revolution. Uncertainty comes with the territory. It’s my job to crunch the numbers, calculate the benefits and convince people they can be delivered. That makes my role incredibly rewarding and impactful.
You don’t need a background in energy to get involved.
As I mentioned above, the innovation team at UK Power Networks is extremely diverse as is the company as a whole. Every day I have the pleasure of working with people from all backgrounds, who each have different personal, technical and career experiences. This is particularly useful as you almost always have someone to answer a question on even the most random of topics. That kind of cultural and neuro-diversity is key to nourishing a truly collaborative and innovative environment that can tackle the unprecedented targets ahead. Not only is diversity required to develop internal capabilities, it can also help facilitate external partnerships with non-traditional players in the sector. Three years ago, I experienced this first hand as we reached out to the transport sector in new ways as the electric vehicle uptake really began to accelerate.
Less than four years into my career, I’ve seen dozens of people join with fresh new skills and viewpoints on our biggest issues. It’s been happening both within our company and at partners and collaborators. We need communication experts who help us share learnings; customer service specialists who deliver for our customers and make sure the energy transition works for those in vulnerable circumstances; economists who understand how to address market failures to facilitate faster uptake of low carbon technologies; enhanced data and digital capabilities to open up the network data; and many other new skills. Training is ongoing and never ending, so if you have passion, we can work with you to make real benefits come to fruition.
We can shape the world to make it work for all.
In 2050, I will be in my late 50s. By then, I’m aiming to look back proudly on the impact I’ve had and forward to a Net Zero world that truly works for all. That’s why I’m a wholehearted supporter of the Generation 2050 Manifesto – “We are Generation 2050. Today we are studying or in the early stages of our careers in energy around the world. Tomorrow we will be the sector’s leaders. The actions taken in 2021 will determine the state of the industry and the planet we inherit.”
Today’s leaders should already be paying more attention to what young professionals have to say. Our generation exists in a truly unique window of opportunity – with just enough time, drive, determination and skill to make Net Zero a reality. It’s a challenge that inspires me and many others and it’s what makes this such a fun time to be in energy.
I encourage you all to seize the moment and make every step along the road to Net Zero count.
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